Lists of coronavirus symptoms don’t completely match up which could be a big problem

Reporter: Veronica Marshall
Published: Updated:

Fever, difficulty breathing and a cough — we’ve all heard about the standard symptoms for COVID-19 but depending on where you live, the clues to coronavirus may not be the same.

Experts say that could pose a problem.

With a symptoms list that keeps changing, it can be difficult for doctors to quickly identify COVID-19 patients.

“She came here for totally non-respiratory reasons – no fever, nothing… We swabbed her, she was positive,” said Dr. David Linder, medical director fo NCH’s COVID response team.

Linder says one of the most common symptoms his team sees didn’t even make the list initially.

“A very, very common thing that we’re seeing is people who lose their sense of smell,” he said.

Now, insomnia has made the CDC and World Health Organization COVID symptom lists, but the two groups aren’t entirely in sync…and it’s not just them.

“Mayo has a different list, Johns Hopkins has a different list. Everybody has a different list,” said Dr. Ken Kazahaya, MBA, FACS, Associate Director of the Division of Otolaryngology (ENT) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Doctors say one reason for the difference between the CDC and the WHO lists has to do with where we get our information.

In the U.S., researchers use data gathered within our own borders to ensure it’s reliable and meets U.S. standards.

Kazhaya warns against listing every symptom connected to COVID-19.

“To print the exhaustive list, you would probably cause more hype, hysteria, craziness out there because people will say, ‘Oh I have that symptom, but I don’t have any of the others, I just have that one symptom. So I must have COVID,’” he said.

But not everyone agrees. Dr. Jay Wolfson with USF Public Health says the disparities could hurt global efforts to fight back against the virus.

“We’re not concerned about individual cases, we’re concerned about dozens and hundreds and thousands of cases – and if we don’t have consistency in the way we do this, then we’re kind of flying partially blind,” he said. “If we don’t have accurate, valid, consistent information, then we’re going to be responding either to things that aren’t real or we’re going to be missing the things that are.”

Now, until everyone agrees, experts say they’ll be on the lookout for any and all new concerning symptoms…

“The wide array of potential symptoms means that the provider, be it the physician, the PA, the nurse practitioner, has to have a high index of suspicion,” Linder said.

…and you should too.

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