Covid: How soon after exposure can you get symptoms and test positive?

The time it takes Covid symptoms to appear can vary depending on the variant. (Picture: Getty Images)

As Boris Johnson refuses to rule out another lockdown in the UK, the public may want to think about how they can avoid spreading Covid.

Although testing in England is no longer free, taking a lateral flow test when you have Covid symptoms can still be a way to ensure that you don’t spread the virus to others.

The Covid symptoms you experience may vary depending on the variant you’ve caught.

But the amount of time it takes for your symptoms to show up can also vary depending on the variant, as well as varying from person to person.

Some people, of course, may never show symptoms at all.

So how long does it take for Covid symptoms to show up after being infected?

What are Covid symptoms?

The main symptoms of Covid are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a change or loss of taste and smell, according to the NHS

However, Covid has a wide range of symptoms, so other people may experience symptoms like fatigue, a sore throat, a headache, nausea, and vomiting. 

According to the ZOE Covid Study app, the top five symptoms that were reported during periods when Delta and then Omicron were the dominant variants were a runny nose, a headache, fatigue (mild or severe), sneezing, and a sore throat.

How soon after exposure can Covid symptoms show?

People who catch Covid can begin to show symptoms anywhere from two days to two weeks after being infected. 

It is thought that people who caught earlier variants of Covid, would start showing symptoms in around five days, while people who caught the Delta variant would show symptoms within four days.

However, it is thought that people infected with the Omicron variant will show symptoms even sooner, with some people displaying around three days after being infected, according to Harvard Medical School.

Can you be contagious before Covid symptoms show?

People tend to be the most infectious soon after being infected. Harvard Medical School says that ‘most transmission occurs during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards.’

People without symptoms can still be infectious—and this includes people who have not yet started showing symptoms as well as people who will never show symptoms. 

How soon after exposure can you test positive for Covid?

You are more likely to test positive for Covid a few days after exposure, rather on the day of infection 

Harvard Medical School says: ‘For example, if you are tested on the day you were infected, your test result is almost guaranteed to come back negative, because there are not yet enough viral particles in your nose or saliva to detect.

‘The chance of getting a false negative test result decreases if you are tested a few days after you were infected, or a few days after you develop symptoms.’

What to do if you have Covid symptoms

You can choose to pay for a PCR test if you wish, but free testing is no longer available in England for most people.

The NHS advises that if you have any of the main symptoms of Covid, you should stay at home and avoid other people until you feel better.

It is especially important that you avoid people who are at a higher risk of becoming really unwell with Covid.

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