If You Notice This, You May Have Been Exposed to COVID, Virus Experts Say
There have been nearly 39.5 million cases of COVID-19 reported in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means a startling 12 percent of Americans have been confirmed to have contracted the virus. As high of a percentage as that is, the large majority of people in the U.S. haven't caught the virus—or perhaps they have and haven't known it for sure. Since COVID-19 can often result in asymptomatic infection, many people have wondered if they've caught the virus and emerged unscathed. These days, it seems even more possible you could come into contact with COVID and not know it for a few reasons. For starters, the dominant Delta variant is more contagious; secondly, every single state is seeing high rates of transmission (100 or more COVID cases per 100,000 people); and lastly, if you're among the 53 percent of people in the U.S. who are fully vaccinated, if you did have a rare breakthrough infection, you're likely to be asymptomatic. So, now more than ever, you may be curious if there are any signs that indicate you've had exposure to COVID unknowingly.
"It really is so transmissible that I think there's a high chance, depending on the community transmission rate in your area … that you may have been exposed," Monica Gandhi, MD, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of California, San Francisco, told HuffPost of the Delta variant.
Jennifer Nuzzo, DrPH, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told HuffPost that because Delta is so transmissible, if you've been gathering in places without wearing a mask or social distancing where you don't know the vaccine status of people around you, there's a high probability you'll be exposed. "If you're around virus in a good enough way, there's a good chance you're going to be infected," she said.
Even if you are exposed to COVID, that doesn't mean you'll definitely contract the virus, however. How physically close you get to the infected person, how long you are with them, how much of the virus they're shedding, and what the ventilation of the room is like all play a part. If the answer to those questions is "close," "long," "a lot," and "poor," there's a higher chance of COVID exposure. Then, there is also the factor of how your body responds to the virus, including whether or not you have immunity from vaccination or previous infection.
According to HuffPost, if you've been vaccinated, there's a higher chance you wouldn't know if you were exposed because the vaccine helps your body build an immune response to fight off the virus before it could cause you to develop any symptoms. But, they say, "You might be able to sense the activation of your immune system. … Some people might be able to feel that immune response, which could potentially feel similar to some of the side effects experienced after vaccination since those were signs that your immune system was revved up."
Gandhi added that if you've been exposed to COVID, even if you're vaccinated, you may "feel down or tired."
But the truth is, with COVID exposure, there's no way to know for sure unless you test positive for the virus while you're actively infected. Even an antibody test, which can measure your immune response from past infection or vaccination, there's "a small chance of a false positive," the experts at Healthline warn.
If you suspect you've been exposed to COVID-19, how you should proceed depends on your vaccination status. The CDC says that unvaccinated people should quarantine for 14 days and monitor themselves for symptoms. If you do develop symptoms, self-isolate and talk to your doctor about treatment and testing. However, if you're fully vaccinated and you suspect or know for sure that you've been exposed to COVID, get tested three to five days after exposure and wear a mask indoors when in public for 14 days or until you receive a negative test result.