6 types of COVID-19, ranked from least to most dangerous

With every passing month, we’re learning more critical information about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2.

One thing we’ve learned is that the original set of symptoms released by the CDC when the pandemic began to ramp up in the U.S. this spring — a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath — isn’t nearly enough.

As the pandemic has stretched on, people have reported a large variety of symptoms and shared their vastly different experiences with the disease. Some people lost their taste and smell. Others developed COVID toes. Some developed diarrhea. Others developed shortness of breath so severe they had to be hospitalized and put on a ventilator.

How does a single disease impact people in such different ways? Well, according to the latest research, it’s because there may actually be six different types of the disease.

The least severe and most severe types of COVID-19

Researchers from King’s College London recently analyzed data from about 1,600 people in the U.S. and U.K. who entered their COVID-19 symptoms into a tracker app in March and April. They used the data to group people together who had similar symptoms, and they realized there may actually be six different variations of the disease. Here are the six types they discovered, ranked from least severe to most severe:

  1. Flu-like with no fever: Headache, loss of smell, muscle pains, cough, sore throat, chest pain, no fever.
  2. Flu-like with fever: Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever, loss of appetite.
  3. Gastrointestinal: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough.
  4. Severe level one, fatigue: Headache, loss of smell, cough, fever, hoarseness, chest pain, fatigue.
  5. Severe level two, confusion: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain.
  6. Severe level three, abdominal and respiratory: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

Now, according to these researchers, the type of COVID-19 you have greatly impacts your likelihood of ending up in the hospital or needing a respirator. In the least severe categories at the top of the list, only about 2 to 3 percent will eventually need help breathing. In the more severe categories at the bottom of the list, that number jumps to about 9 to 20 percent.

As far as hospitalization goes, close to half in the most severe symptom categories will likely eventually need hospitalization, while only 16 percent in the least severe symptom categories will.

The good news is health professionals can potentially use these categories to determine which patients are more likely to need breathing help and hospitalization. They can monitor these patients closely, which could hopefully prevent some deaths.

“If you can predict who these people are at day five, you have time to give them support and early interventions such as monitoring blood oxygen and sugar levels, and ensuring they are properly hydrated — simple care that could be given at home, preventing hospitalizations and saving lives,” said researcher Dr. Claire Steves, from King’s College London.

How this knowledge helps you, too

We’ve been slammed with lots of information since the pandemic started. Some of it almost seems conflicting, but in reality, every day those on the front lines are learning more about Covid-19. And this may be some of the most helpful information we’ve received, in addition to guidance on how to protect ourselves through social distancing.

Having these symptom groups top of mind may be able to help you and your loved ones protect yourselves better during this pandemic.

If you’re familiar with which groups of symptoms are high-risk and which ones are lower risk, you’ll be more likely to seek the medical attention you need sooner. So, study that list, and be ready should any of these symptoms strike in your household.


  1. There may be 6 types of COVID-19 — MedicalXpress.
  2. Study identifies six different “types” of COVID-19 — CBS News.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.