Think you may have COVID? First symptoms differ among age groups, genders

LONDON — Early COVID-19 symptoms materialize differently depending on your age and gender, according to a new study. Researchers from Kings College London report the biggest symptom differences occur between younger age groups (16-59 years-old) and older age groups (60-80+ years-old). Regardless of age differences however, men in general tend to experience different early symptoms than women.

Researchers used data collected by the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app between April and October 2020. That initiative invited “app contributors” to get a coronavirus test after experiencing COVID-related symptoms. Using that information, researchers modeled the early signs of COVID-19 infection and subsequently correctly detected 80 percent of cases using just three days worth of self-reported symptoms.

The machine learning model used by study authors had the ability to account for personal characteristics about the subjects (including age, gender, and health conditions). Thanks to this skill, researchers observed differences in patients depending on age and gender in reference to early symptoms.

Some COVID symptoms are more common than others

In all, study analyzed 18 separate COVID 18 symptoms. Generally speaking, some of the most common early symptoms seen in COVID-19 patients include persistent cough, abdominal pain, blisters on the feet, eye soreness, unusual muscle pain, loss of smell or taste, and chest pain.

Interestingly, though, loss of smell wasn’t nearly as common among adults over the age of 60. The team dubbed that symptom “not relevant” at all among individuals over the age of 80. Older adults (ages 60-80+) also experienced diarrhea much more often. Notably, fever was not a common early symptom among any individuals of any age.

Regarding gender, men were more likely to report fatigue, shortness of breath, and chills. Women, meanwhile, were more likely to experience loss of smell, chest pain and a persistent cough.

“Its important people know the earliest symptoms are wide-ranging and may look different for each member of a family or household. 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,” says lead study author Claire Steves in a university release.

Nothing new coming with the Delta variant?

Study authors are confident their findings should be applicable to anyone who becomes infected with COVID-19, even the new Delta variant.

“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 minimize the risk of spread,” adds first study author Dr. Liane dos Santos Canas.

“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. Alternatively, a larger set of symptoms could be considered, so the different manifestations of the disease across different groups are taken into account,” concludes Dr. Marc Modat, Senior Lecturer at King’s College London.

The study appears in the journal The Lancet Digital Health.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

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