Symptoms including chills, loss of appetite, headache and muscle aches are ‘strongly linked’ with being infected with Covid-19, a study of over one million people has shown.
Researchers from Imperial College London’s REACT-1 study found that having any of these symptoms – or the classic ones of fever; loss of taste or smell; or a new persistent cough – was associated with Covid infection. The more of the symptoms people showed, the more likely they were to test positive.
The researchers are now calling for a wider range of symptoms to be included on the list prompting people to book a Covid test.
The researchers further found there was a difference in reported symptoms based on age, with chills linked to testing positive in all ages; headaches reported in young people aged 5-17; appetite loss in 18-54 and 55+; and muscle aches in people aged 18-54.
Children, aged 5-17, were also less likely to have a fever, persistent cough and appetite loss compared with adults.
Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that the current testing programme may pick up around half of all symptomatic infections if everyone eligible were tested. If the additional symptoms were included, they believe this would grow to three-quarters of symptomatic infections.
The pre-print study is not yet peer reviewed.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial, said: ‘These new findings suggest many people with Covid-19 won’t be getting tested – and therefore won’t be self-isolating – because their symptoms don’t match those used in current public health guidance to help identify infected people.
‘We understand that there is a need for clear testing criteria, and that including lots of symptoms which are commonly found in other illnesses like seasonal flu could risk people self-isolating unnecessarily. I hope that our findings on the most informative symptoms mean that the testing programme can take advantage of the most up-to-date evidence, helping to identify more infected people.’
The news comes as a number of GPs have called for the Government to include more symptoms in the official case definition of Covid, including a runny nose and a cold. The symptoms, with the technical term coryza, should be added to the list of symptoms that prompt people to get a Covid test, they said.
Currently, Covid tests are available for those who have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or have lost or noticed a change in their sense of smell or taste.