AARP chared that fever, cough, and shortness of breath are not the only warning signs of coronavirus infection, even if they are the most common. In recent months a growing number of doctors have documented a handful of otherwise unexpected symptoms in patients with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Some are reporting red or purple lesions on patients’ hands and feet; others are treating people with diarrhea and severe appetite loss. There are also patients who have lost their sense of taste and smell. These symptoms, strange as they may seem, reinforce what experts around the world have come to realize in recent weeks: The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is capable of causing more than a respiratory illness; it can launch a full-body attack.
“It takes a while for the full range of symptoms to kind of be known” when you’re dealing with a new virus, explains Lisa Winston, M.D., an epidemiologist, and professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. At the start of the U.S. outbreak, the focus was primarily on treating the sickest patients, many of whom experienced classic respiratory symptoms and needed help breathing. “And then, as time went on and people saw more cases, they started to recognize some of the things that are a bit less typical,” Winston says.
Here are some uncommon signs of COVID-19 that fall outside the hallmark symptoms.
If you had asked dermatologist Esther Freeman, M.D., last year what type of skin ailment a future viral pandemic might bring about, she never would have predicted red- and purple-colored toes that swell, burn and itch. But that’s exactly what she and other experts are seeing in patients with coronavirus infections, leading this unusual symptom to be dubbed “COVID toes.”
“The good news is, they do go away,” says Freeman, director of Massachusetts General Hospital Global Health Dermatology and assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, who is also overseeing an international registry that catalogs the dermatological manifestations of COVID-19. “So we’re not seeing that this is going to cause permanent damage.”
Another plus: The majority of people with COVID toes — which Freeman likens to chilblains (also called pernio), an inflammatory skin condition that often occurs after exposure to very cold temperatures — don’t experience other symptoms of a coronavirus infection and don’t require hospitalization for care. “Many patients are developing these toe lesions well after their infection, or they’re otherwise completely asymptomatic, except for the toes,” she adds.
Though most cases of COVID toes occur in the feet, the hands can be affected, too. Rashes similar to those that result from hives and chickenpox have also been reported in people who test positive for the coronavirus.