At the moment only people with any of the ‘classic three’ symptoms can get an NHS PCR swab test to confirm Covid infection. These are a new continuous cough, high fever and loss or change of taste or smell. But data from the ZOE symptom study app shows that 31% of people who are ill with Covid don’t have any of these signs in the early stages of the disease. The Zoe team want four more common symptoms added to the official list: fatigue, headache, sore throat and diarrhoea.
These symptoms were spotted by analysing data taken from over 120,000 users of the Zoe app. As part of research, users who felt unwell were invited to take a PCR test, 1,200 went on to test positive for Covid. The Zoe team’s research has recently been published in the Journal of Infection and suggests that by testing only those people who have symptoms on the official list hundreds of thousands of cases have been missed. The Zoe team were the first to identify loss of taste and smell as a symptom back in April last year, Public Health England didn’t recognise it until May. The Zoe app was the first to track symptoms of Long Covid and to identify Covid hot spots around the country.
These four new additional symptoms are very common and could have many other causes. Testing everyone with these symptoms will lead to more negative tests, the Zoe team believe it will rise from the current 46 negative tests for every positive to 95 negatives for every positive. Extending testing, the researchers say , would detect 96% of symptomatic cases. Dr Claire Steves, lead scientist on the app said ,“When PCR testing was scarcely available, it made sense to restrict it. Now in the UK we have plenty of tests available and every positive person detected could save lives’.
Professor Tim Spector, who is leading the Zoe project, said that, “For us, the message for the public is clear: If you’re feeling unwell, it could be Covid and you should get a test”. New variants of Covid could cause different symptoms. A study by the Office for National Statistics found a cough, fatigue, sore throat and muscle pain were more common in people who tested positive for the UK variant of coronavirus.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said that if you have any of the symptoms on the official list then you should self-isolate immediately , along with anyone you live with, and not have any visitors. You should have a test as soon as possible and only leave home to do that. Anyone in your support bubble should also stay at home if you've been in close contact since the symptoms started or during the 48 hours before. People who have other symptoms may be able to access rapid testing through their workplace or the local council.
You should seek emergency medical attention by calling 999 if someone is showing any of these signs:
If you are unsure what to do then you can get help from NHS 111. Translators are available, and if you are Deaf there is a British Sign Language service available. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone and online.
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The Coda Pharmacy Team