Study: Early signs of COVID-19 may differ by age, gender

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A new study suggests that early signs of COVID-19 differ among people based on age and gender. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
A new study suggests that early signs of COVID-19 differ among people based on age and gender. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Exactly what symptoms of early COVID-19 infection you suffer may depend on both your age and gender, a new study finds.

"As part of our study, we have been able to identify that the profile of symptoms due to COVID-19 differs from one group to another. This suggests that the criteria to encourage people to get tested should be personalized using individuals' information such as age," study co-author Marc Modat said in a press release.


Alternatively, a larger set of symptoms could be considered, so the different manifestations of the disease across different groups are taken into account," said Modat, a senior lecturer at King's College London.

Using data collected in Britain between April 20 and Oct. 15, 2020, and a machine learning model, the researchers assessed 18 symptoms to identify early infection and were able to detect 80% of cases when using three days of self-reported symptoms.

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Overall, the most important symptoms were loss of smell, chest pain, persistent cough, abdominal pain, blisters on the feet, eye soreness and unusual muscle pain.

But loss of smell was less significant in people older than 60 and was not relevant for those over 80.


Other early symptoms, such as diarrhea, were key in people older than 60, while fever was not an early symptom of the disease in any age group.

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Gender also mattered, the investigators found.

Men were more likely to report shortness of breath, fatigue, chills and shivers, while women were more likely to report loss of smell, chest pain and a persistent cough, according to the study published online Thursday in The Lancet Digital Health.

Lead author Claire Steves, a reader at King's College London, said, "It's important people know the earliest symptoms are wide-ranging and may look different for each member of a family or household.

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Testing guidance could be updated to enable cases to be picked up earlier, especially in the face of new variants which are highly transmissible."

And study first author Liane dos Santos Canas, from King's College London, added, "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 minimize the risk of spread."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 symptoms.


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