As the global coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors are learning more about some of the odder symptoms reported to be associated with the virus. From skin rashes, lesions on toes, a loss of one's sense of taste and smell, burning or tingling skin, and a buzzing or fizzing feeling in the body, strange coronavirus symptoms have continued to pop up as the number of cases climbs. While early reports and discussions on these unexpected symptoms can be helpful for those treating patients, doctors say more studies are needed to determine how prevalent such symptoms truly are.
Back in March, some COVID-19 patients reported experiencing a loss of smell and taste — a symptom the CDC eventually added to its list of confirmed coronavirus symptoms in late April. In the following weeks, a number of doctors and dermatologists reported seeing skin rashes or purple and reddish blue lesions on the toes or fingers of some confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. And in recent weeks, some reported experiencing a skin sensitivity similar to either a buzzing, fizzing, burning or, tingling sensation, which Dr. Ebbing Lautenbach, M.D., chief of the division of infectious disease at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Romper are symptoms that doctors have previously seen in patients battling other infectious diseases. "Patients have described these sort of [bodily sensations] in other infectious diseases, especially viral infections," Lautenbach says.
In Kentucky, a woman reported feeling a "tingling all over her body." A Minnesota woman said she "felt like my skin was on fire and like someone was stabbing the marrow of my bones." Tarana Burke reported that her partner experienced "sensitive skin" while fighting the novel coronavirus, adding that he'd told her his skin felt like it was "burning." Peter Jukes reported feeling a "disassociated buzz in some parts of my body," prompting a few others on social media to say they'd felt a similar feeling while sick.
But Lautenbach tells Romper it's too early to know how prevalent this type of symptom might be among COVID-19 patients. "I think it's too early to tell whether this is something that is really highly prevalent in COVID-19, or if this is just something similar to what we occasionally see in other viral infections," Lautenbach says.
Although doctors have seen patients report buzzing, burning, or tingling while fighting other viral infections, it's not immediately clear what causes these sensitivities. According to Lautenbach, this "tends to occur at the same time that somebody otherwise has systemic symptoms, meaning malaise, fever, body aches, things like that."
"It's generally thought to be just another manifestation of the general immune response to an infection," Lautenbach explains. "And that's probably what the scenario here is as well."
Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York, echoed a similar message in comments to TODAY, noting that such sensations are likely linked to the body's immune response. "When our immune response is acting up, people can feel different sensations," Javaid said. "Our immune cells get activated so a lot of chemicals get released throughout our body and that can present or feel like there's some fizzing."
While there's certainly still a bit of mystery around COVID-19 patients' reports of feeling a buzzing or fizzing sensation in the skin and body, Lautenbach says doctors don't think the potential symptom is a dangerous one. "If you link this [symptom] in with the skin findings of COVID, either COVID-19 toes or rashes and things like that, those don't seem to have prognostic significance for COVID," Lautenbach says. "And so I don't think that, at least for as much as we understand now, there's anything worrisome to be read into having these more nuance symptoms of irritation."
Still, Lautenbach says there's value to early reports of potential COVID-19 symptoms as learning about and quantifying a virus and its symptoms comes in stages. First come descriptive reports of the illness in the media, on social media, and scientific literature. Later, as more knowledge and experience are gained around the virus, more in-depth studies can be carried out in which researchers attempt to uncover things like symptom timelines, the prevalence of certain symptoms among various age groups, the specific effects underlying conditions may have on the virus, and the predictive power of certain symptoms compared to others.
And even now, doctors can benefit from early descriptions of potential symptoms. "I think part of the benefit of having some of these very descriptive things out early, especially for new symptoms, is that it makes other clinicians hopefully read those reports and think, ‘oh, gosh this is something that I should be looking for in patients that I see with COVID,'" Lautenbach tells Romper. "It both serves to get more knowledge out there and alert people to what they might want to be looking for in patients that they might not have otherwise looked for."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.
Dr. Ebbing Lautenbach, M.D., MPH, MSCE, chief of the division of infectious disease at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.