Understanding the Progression of COVID-19 Symptoms for Faster Diagnosis

While there is still a lot to be learned about the COVID-19 virus, medical researchers are beginning to crack the code regarding the likely progression of symptoms in many patients. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) was able to shed a little light on when those who contract the virus may begin to see symptoms and in what order.

Specifics of the Study

The USC researchers used data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) of more than 55,000 positive coronavirus cases from China. To further supplement the study, the researchers also looked at data of nearly 1,100 positive cases provided by the National Health Commission of China. The data in the latter group had been collected in December and January when the outbreak was in its infancy stages.

In order to compare the data of the COVID-19 patients to illnesses that present with similar symptoms, the USC researchers also looked at data from more than 2,000 influenza cases in North America, Europe, and the Southern Hemisphere that occurred between 1994 and 1998. This angle of the research provided a contrast between typical flu symptoms and the less understood coronavirus.

Order of COVID-19 Symptoms

According to the study, the most common onset symptom is fever. A fever is most likely followed by cough and muscle pain, then nausea or vomiting, with diarrhea coming last in the list of the most common symptoms. When comparing the progression of symptoms of COVID-19 patients to influenza, it became clear that the majority of flu patients first presented with a cough before developing a fever.

Varied Symptoms

One of the most unique aspects of this deadly virus is that there is such a broad range of symptoms. This wide array of symptoms makes it particularly difficult for people to determine if they may be positive without the help of a diagnostic test. At the beginning of the outbreak, most people believed that a fever was a distinguishing feature of the illness. However, as more was learned about the virus, it became clear that many positive patients never experience any type of fever.

Although a fever is still the most common initial symptom, some patients present with rather unique symptoms. Other common symptoms include a general feeling of malaise, headache, or dizziness. Chest pain that is absent of any other respiratory symptoms could also be a leading indicator that COVID-19 is taking hold in the body.

Some of the most unique symptoms include a loss of taste or smell and discoloration of the skin. Sometimes these minor symptoms will present in the absence of any other distinguishing sign that the patient may have COVID-19. The researchers noted that understanding these more unique symptoms may help medical care professionals to distinguish between possible COVID-19 and the general flu. Being able to make these quick distinctions will be a key in helping to keep the upcoming flu season under control.

Because there is no guidebook for this novel virus, health care providers now know that they need to be particularly vigilant about spotting possible positive cases and treating any patient as if they may be infected with COVID-19.

Complications with Flu Season

Health experts are growing increasingly concerned that the upcoming flu season will cause mortality rates to jump to unprecedented levels this fall and winter. While some medical care professionals are hopeful that the mask mandates, social distancing, and a higher priority on personal hygiene will help to stem the spread of the flu, there is the possibility that a bad flu season could be devastating. The word "twindemic" is already being thrown around as a way to describe the possible convergence of a bad flu season with the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.

Knowing how the symptoms will most likely present can help COVID-19 patients to better determine if they may be positive so that they can self-isolate and seek treatment sooner. It is important to note that every COVID-19 patient presents differently. While this research provides medical professionals with another layer of ways to distinguish between a possible case of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu, it is always recommended to err on the side of caution and assume you may have COVID-19 unless you test negative.

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