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This rare coronavirus symptom could be the very first sign of an infection

Published Mar 3rd, 2021 9:00AM EST
Covid Symptoms First Signs
Image: Fabian/Adobe

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While most everyone at this point is familiar with the range of common COVID-19 symptoms, researchers over the past few months have observed several uncommon symptoms that can sometimes manifest early on after exposure to the coronavirus.

To this point, Harvard Professor and infectious disease expert Dr. Andrew Chan has noticed that rash, raised skin bumps, and inflammation on the fingers and toes can sometimes be an early indication of a COVID-19 infection. Chan reached this conclusion by carefully observing data gleaned from the COVID Symptom Study carried out in the UK last year which encompassed hundreds of thousands of patients.

According to Chan, the types of skin conditions seen in COVID-19 patients can be divided up into three distinct categories.

The first is a hive-type rash that presents with raised bumps on the skin. The bumps are said to be itchy and can come and go and reappear all within the span of a few hours. The second type of rash is similar to what you might see with chickenpox and presents with masses of small and itchy bumps anywhere on the body. The third condition manifests with discoloration on the fingers or toes, a symptom that has come to be categorized as COVID toes.

With respect to the latter symptom, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) adds:

The condition may develop on your toes, fingers, or both. From what we know, it seems that most people develop this only on their toes, which explains the name “COVID toes.”

The swelling and discoloration can begin on one or several toes or fingers, according to Amy Paller, MD, FAAD, who is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and Chair of Dermatology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. At first, you might see a bright red color that gradually turns to purple. COVID toes can also begin with a purplish color.

The AAD goes on to say that when COVID toes first appear, it isn’t accompanied by any itching or discomfort. As the symptom persists, however, some patients have reported blisters, itchiness, and pain.

If this all sounds familiar, you might remember that a Spanish University hospital study published in The American Journal of Surgical Pathology found that the sudden appearance of a rash can often signify a COVID-19 infection. Notably, COVID patients who experienced a rash often noticed changes to their skin before more common COVID symptoms like cough and fever appeared.

Additionally, a UK study on COVID patients in 2020 claimed that a skin rash should constitute a potential warning sign of a coronavirus infection:

Researchers discovered that 8.8% of people reporting a positive coronavirus swab test had experienced a skin rash as part of their symptoms, compared with 5.4% of people with a negative test result. Similar results were seen in a further 8.2% of users with a rash who did not have a coronavirus test, but still reported classic COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, fever or anosmia (loss of smell).

That study, in particular, found that 17% of COVID patients experienced a type of rash as their first symptom.

All told, a rash certainly isn’t the most common COVID-19 symptom people will likely experience, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.

As a quick reminder, some of the more common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, congestion, the sudden loss of taste and smell, and body aches.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.