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Study: Older adults less likely to get tested for COVID-19 or know screening sites

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Study: Older adults less likely to get tested for COVID-19 or know screening sites
Healthcare professionals prepare to administer  PCR coronavirus tests earlier this month. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Older adults are among those less likely to get tested for COVID-19, despite their having symptoms that indicate they should be screened for the virus, a study published Wednesday by PLOS Global Public Health found.

This is due primarily to their not knowing where testing is available and what symptoms indicate they should be screened, the researchers said.

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The findings are based on an analysis of data for more than 4 million adults in the United States and Britain, and suggest the need for improved "messaging" to certain groups, particularly older adults.

Even those with mild symptoms or symptoms that go away on their own after a few days may have COVID-19 and should get tested for the virus to avoid potential long-term health complications, the researchers said.

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"Knowing when and where to get a test is crucial to curbing COVID-19 transmission," wrote the researchers, from Boston Children's Hospital and King's College London.

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However, "one in four people with ... test-qualifying symptoms of fever, cough or loss of smell did not get tested," they said.

In addition, more than one-third of those with symptoms qualifying them for testing did not recognize that they had these key symptoms, the researchers said.

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In Britain, public health officials recommend people get tested for COVID-19 if they have a fever or cough or have lost their sense of smell.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not prioritize symptoms, but recommends testing for anyone with any signs of infection, including fever, cough, fatigue and loss of sense of taste or smell.

COVID-19 tests are free in both countries, though shortages have been reported in parts of the United States.

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On Friday, the Biden administration announced that starting this week, people could order free tests online and receive them by mail, from the U.S. Postal Service.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 4.3 million people enrolled in Britain's Zoe COVID Symptom Study, which uses a smartphone app to collect symptom information and test results from participating adults.

The researchers also sent follow-up surveys at the end of 2020 to nearly 5,000 people who reported COVID-19 symptoms but had not been tested as well as data from more than 700,000 respondents to the University of Maryland Global COVID-19 Trends and Impact Survey.

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The latter survey is an ongoing assessment of symptom and testing trends partially carried out on Facebook, the researchers said.

Between April 2020 and January of last year, the percentage of British adults with COVID-19 symptoms who reported getting tested rose to just over 70% from 20%, the data showed.

However, 27% of those with only one qualifying symptom in Britain did not get tested for the virus, compared with 15% of those with two or more symptoms, the researchers said.

Similarly, 30% of people with symptoms last two or fewer did not get tested, compared with 15% of those who had symptoms for a longer period of time, according to the researchers.

Among participants in the United States, nearly one in three did not know where to go for testing, the data showed.

Lack of knowledge of COVID-19 testing sites increased with each decade of age, a concern given that older adults are at increased risk for severe illness from the virus, the researchers said.

"About a third of those who wanted testing did not know where to go," the researchers wrote, adding, This indicates "that more effective education is needed to close the testing gap."

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