N = 1: An experience of possibly having the coronavirus, aka SARS-CoV-2 during the COVID-19 outbreak

This post is a departure from what we usually write about on the Team Shrub blog. But I am a scientist, and thus love to collect data! And this week, I’ve had the opportunity to collect some data about myself – with a sample size of one. This week, I may or may not have experienced the coronavirus. They aren’t testing here in Scotland at the moment except in hospitals, so I probably won’t ever know if this really was the coronavirus, but it might have been! I thought I could share my experience here all the same.

I am sharing this for my own research group, colleagues, friends and anyone who wants to know what it might be like to have the virus – though of course everyone will experience something different. I saw a Facebook message from a colleague in Switzerland who posted that she had recovered from a likely case of coronavirus and that it wasn’t too bad. For me it was great to hear from someone I knew who had been through the virus, as this allayed my own fears this week. FYI, I am a relatively healthy person, just about to leave my 30s with no particular underlying conditions, and have had the flu shot this year.

Electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virions with visible coronae from wikipedia.

Daily symptom log:

I have put myself in self-isolation at home here in Edinburgh for the past five days. On Sunday night I started feeling funny just before bed. I was starting to feel a swollen throat – not sore per se, but swollen.

Day 1, 16 Mar 2020: My throat felt more swollen when I woke up. Just at the back of my throat where your tongue touches the throat when you swallow. My head felt “swollen” too. I felt mildly sick. I had one dizzy spell after getting up too quickly. I didn’t noticeably have a fever, but then, I don’t have a super reliable thermometer.

My thermometer is penguin-shaped and I can’t remember when I purchased it – it could be quite old. It seems to record lower temperatures than what would be expected, so I don’t totally trust it. It said I had a fever of around 37.5 to 38ºC when I felt at my most feverish.

Day 2, 17 Mar 2020: My throat was still swollen, my head still felt swollen. I could also feel discomfort in my upper “lungs” when I breathed deeply. I had not felt hungry for the past two days. I was scheduling light meals as I had no particular desire to eat anything. I also had a reduced sense of smell – for example when drinking lemon tea, I couldn’t tell by smell that it was lemon-flavoured.

When you potentially have the coronavirus, ideal meals include those that are very quick to make!

Day 3, 18 Mar 2020: This was the peak of my illness. The symptoms felt more like a flu and weren’t particularly “mild” anymore. I had more of a fever – but it was still a low fever, probably only elevated by a degree or two. I felt quite fatigued/rundown. Sometimes I was hot and flushed and sometimes cold. I felt like lying down the entire day and it was an effort to get up and do things. In the evening, I felt more achy. Later on in the evening I started to feel mildly nauseous.

Recipes for 3-minute self-isolation soup and fruity “gruel” can be found at the bottom of the post.

Day 4, 19 Mar 2020: Today, I woke up at 5am still feeling mildly nauseous with an aching lower back.  As the day has progressed, I am feeling my energy come back. My throat does not feel as swollen anymore. By lunchtime I was hungry for the first time in four days. I think I am on the mend!

My house is not great at catching the direct sunlight at this time of year. By leaning out my window, I can catch a few rays of sun, as I was doing this morning on day 4 of my potential coronavirus infection and period of self-isolation.

Day 5, 20 Mar 2020: I was able to sleep longer and I felt better than I did the day before. I can still feel some swollen-ness in my throat and it feels a bit lower in my throat than it did at the beginning of the week. I can still feel some mild discomfort when I breath deeply in my upper respiratory track. I had brief moments of feeling fever-ish or flushed, but over the day I felt much less fatigued and I did not have an aching back anymore. My taste seems altered this week as for example I cannot really taste the mint of my toothpaste.

Day 6, 21 Mar 2020: I feel pretty recovered now. I also feel high baseline stress at the moment – as I am sure we all are felling – so I think that is more the reason for not yet feeling 100% normal at this stage.

Day 7, 22 Mar 2020: Pretty much all good now. Though, I do have a slightly runny nose. My sense of taste and smell is returning slowly.

Day 8, 23 Mar 2020: I’m still feeling slightly fever-ish at points, but no other particular symptoms.

12 days later, 3 Apr 2020: I am all better, back to normal and finished my quarantine. There were no more noticeable symptoms after day 8 and my sense of taste and smell have returned gradually.

Another 12 days later, 15 Apr 2020: Interestingly, I have been sick again for the past six days with a lot of the same symptoms, but more mild. I lost my sense of taste again – the main thing I noticed initially is my black tea with milk tasted surprisingly salty all week and again I couldn’t taste or smell lemon. Then about five days ago my throat became swollen, then over the past four days I have had periods of a mild fever and I have felt mild discomfort in my chest particularly while lying down and mild fatigue. I think I am again on the mend. Informally, I have heard from other people who have also had a re-occurrence of symptoms after getting better from what was presumably Covid19.

Another 10 days later, 25 Apr 2020: Laterally, I had some post nasal drip and congestion – but those symptoms could be seasonal allergies? Apart from that I am feeling all back to normal again.

Case notes:

The one typical symptom that I never experienced was a persistent cough.

This is a nice diagram of the generalised symptom progression for a case with hospitalisation from the Imperial College report that you can read here.

I am not sure how I contracted the coronavirus, that is, if I had the coronavirus:

  • I was using public transit all last week.
  • I was at a crowded pub a week before getting sick.
  • I was working at the university meeting with students and colleagues during the week.
  • I went to a low key gathering where no one made any person-to-person contact and we all stayed metres apart three days before I got sick. One person at that gathering seems to have the virus with stronger symptoms than I experienced including a cough.

Additional details:

I contacted everyone with whom I was in close proximity in the three days prior to getting sick, when I might have been contagious.

I will continue to self-isolate for at least three days after my symptoms stop. And I will be in self-isolation for a minimum of seven days as per the UK and Scottish Government guidelines and will continue social distancing and working from home thereafter.

Final reflections:

Things are a bit confusing here in the UK and I am sure around the world at the moment with lots of different information coming in all directions, but I think there is something to be said for sharing personal experiences of a global pandemic. Here’s hoping that I have indeed had the coronavirus and have developed some immunity. I wish I knew for sure, because then maybe I could be of some help in the coming weeks.

The bottom line:

Even a sample size of one contributes to the global data.

By Isla

P.S. I will keep this post updated if I experience any more symptoms or to provide any other relevant details.

The UK government had some issues with their data visualisations and communicating their policies. Here you can’t see their planned “flattened” curve, because they chose the wrong colour! Perhaps they need to check out the Coding Club ‘Wiz of Data Vis’ tutorial.

3-minute self-isolation soup

  • The juice of ½ of a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons of couscous
  • ½ of a stock cube
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups water

Boil ingredients, drop egg into the water and stir, serve piping hot.

Fruity coronavirus gruel – aka runny porridge/oatmeal

  • 1 cup quick cook oatmeal
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons dried cherries
  • splash of milk, cream or milk powder
  • brown sugar or maple syrup

Boil oats with lots of water and a sprinkle of salt.

Add dried cranberries and dried cherries as you cook.

Add milk or cream or milk powder if you have it.

Serve with brown sugar or maple syrup.

Suggested reading materials for information on the Covid19 disease

Imperial College reports informing the UK government responses:


Information on the number of cases world-wide:


Information on the phylogenetic tree for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (check out the animations):


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