OBJECTIVE: Currently effective symptom-based screening of patients suspected of COVID-19 is limited. We aimed to investigate age-related differences in symptom presentations of patients tested positive and negative for SARS-CoV-2.
DESIGN: SETTING: Calls to the medical helpline (1-8-1-3) and emergency number (1-1-2) in Copenhagen, Denmark. At both medical services all calls are recorded.
PARTICIPANTS: We included calls for patients who called for help/guidance at the medical helpline or emergency number prior to receiving a test for SARS-CoV-2 between April 1st and 20th 2020 (8423 patients). Among these calls, we randomly sampled recorded calls from 350 patients who later tested positive and 250 patients tested negative and registered symptoms described in the call.
OUTCOME: RESULTS: After exclusions, 544 calls (312 SARS-CoV-2 positive and 232 negative) were included in the analysis. Fever and cough remained the two most common of COVID-19 symptoms across all age groups and approximately 42% of SARS-CoV-2 positive and 20% of negative presented with both fever and cough. Symptoms including nasal congestion, irritation/pain in throat, muscle/joint pain, loss of taste and smell, and headache were common symptoms of COVID-19 for patients younger than 60 years; whereas loss of appetite and feeling unwell were more commonly seen among patients over 60 years. Headache and loss of taste and smell were rare symptoms of COVID-19 among patients over 60 years.
CONCLUSION: Our study identified age-related differences in symptom presentations of SARS-CoV-2-positive patients calling for help or medical advice. The specific symptoms of loss of smell or taste almost exclusively reported by patients younger than 60 years. Differences in symptom presentation across age groups must be considered when screening for COVID-19.