A vaccination record card and face mask on a table.

July 21, 2021

The news is getting around—as is the fast and fierce Delta strain of the coronavirus. And yes. Even the vaccinated can test positive for it.

Here’s what you need to know if you do—or have had recent contact with someone else who tested positive.

ONE. Don’t be tested too quickly.

If a friend or family member tests positive, you need to get tested—even if you have no signs of illness. But wait 5 to 7 days after exposure. Only then will results be clear.

TWO. Your symptoms may differ from those who are unvaccinated.

The unvaccinated tend to get high fever, loss of taste and smell, constant coughs and difficulty breathing.

Those who have been vaccinated are likely to have no signs of illness or may have a runny nose, sneezing, congestion or headaches. Such symptoms may be mistaken as a cold, sinus infection or allergies.

Consider yourself fortunate that you got your COVID-19 shots. The vaccine is protecting you against severe disease, keeping you out of the hospital and off of ventilators. More than 99.5% of recent coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.

“Those deaths were preventable with a simple, safe shot,” says Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

THREE. Being vaccinated you’re far less likely to catch COVID-19, even if someone you know tested positive for it.

Among 34 million confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2, just 10,000 vaccinated people have caught it. So, the odds favor you.

FOUR. Even so, you should get tested if you’re feeling symptoms, or if someone you recently spent time with tested positive.

If you test positive, alert anyone you’ve been around within the past 14 days so they can get tested, too.

The dominant strain, Delta, has been far more damaging than past variants—and demands your attention. In the past week alone, cases spiked 70% and hospitalizations rose 36% as Delta spread in the U.S.

FIVE. When testing positive, stay apart from others—including those in your household—for 10 days.

SARS-CoV-2 spreads via invisible respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing and talking. It’s not known how long they hang around, but if vaccinated, you may be comforted to know that your droplets are not as contagious as those of an unvaccinated person.

Ideally, you should reserve a separate bedroom and bathroom for the ill. Also, you and other family members should wear masks and keep 6 feet apart. And don’t share dishes and towels.

Similarly, be considerate of those outside your household. Isolate from others for 10 days and wear a mask if you visit your doctor or otherwise must leave home.

After testing positive, it’s vital to mask up and keep socially distant from the unvaccinated, children under age 12 and those with immune disorders that make them more vulnerable to illness and may preclude them from getting vaccinated.

SIX. Don’t rejoin society just because you feel better.

Get a follow-up test with negative results before rejoining others.

SEVEN. It’s not just you.

Delta has hit many high profile and vaccinated people, a variety of Major League Baseball players and coaches and an increasing number of athletes planning to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

EIGHT. If you need greater motivation to be cautious, consider this.

The latest research suggests even the vaccinated may become long-haulers, with symptoms that last long after the virus has left them and can be far more debilitating than during the original ailment. These traits include insomnia, shortness of breath, loss of taste and extreme exhaustion.

So continue to be cautious: Wear masks, avoid crowds, keep socially distant and wash hands frequently.

Stay up to date on the CDC’s guidelines for fully vaccinated people ».

The information in this article was clinically reviewed by Dr. Linda Yancey and is accurate as of July 21, 2021.

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