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Experts report new early signs of COVID-19 infection detected in 80 percent of cases

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Despite fresh research, the recommendations still only mention three coronavirus symptoms: fever, cough, and loss of taste or smell. Its public messaging is based on these signs.

However, new research published today shows that we may be missing many signs, allowing many cases to slip through the net.

A new study in the Lancet Digital Health journal highlights several early warning signs.

Between April 20th and October 15th 2020, researchers at King’s College London analysed data from the ZOE COVID Study app.

More than four million people have been using the ZOE COVID Study app to track their symptoms throughout the outbreak.

As soon as any new symptoms are reported, all app contributors are encouraged to get a PCR test through the NHS site.

When trained on the first three days of self-reported symptoms, the researchers were able to accurately detect 80% of cases of COVID-19 infection.

Loss of smell, chest pain, persistent cough, abdomen pain, blisters on the feet, eye irritation, and unusual muscular pain were the most common signs for early detection of COVID-19.

The early signs and symptoms varied according to age and gender.

Loss of smell was not an early warning for the older individuals, but other early symptoms such as diarrhoea were important.

Fever was not an early feature of the disease in any age group, despite the fact that it is a known indication of disease.

Shortness of breath, weariness, chills, and fever were more common in men, whereas loss of smell, chest pain, and a persistent cough were more common in women.

Doctor Claire Steves, the ZOE COVID Study’s main scientist and a reader at King’s College London, stated:

It’s important people know the earliest symptoms are wide-ranging. Testing guidance could be updated to enable cases to be picked up earlier, especially in the face of new variants which are highly transmissible.

This could include using widely-available lateral flow tests for people with any of these non-core symptoms.

Professor Tim Spector, Scientific co-founder of ZOE and Professor of epidemiology at King’s College London added:

ZOE continues to drive the public health message that there are more than just three symptoms of COVID.

Our data shows symptoms are more mild and comparable to that of a bad cold, with a runny nose, headache and a sore throat among the top symptoms for all groups.

It seems unlikely that the government is going to change the official list anytime soon, so we are calling on people to spread the word. If you or anyone in your household feels ill, do a lateral flow test and if you test positive, confirm it with a PCR test.

It’s simple, if you feel ill, take a test.

Doctor Liane dos Santos Canas, first author from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, at King’s College London said:

Currently, in the UK, only a few symptoms are used to recommend self-isolation and further testing. Using a larger number of symptoms and only after a few days of being unwell, using AI, we can better detect COVID-19 positive cases.

We hope such a method is used to encourage more people to get tested as early as possible to minimise the risk of spread.

Image Credit: Getty

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