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COVID-19 symptom a ‘nasty surprise’

1 month ago 21

People with COVID-19 are developing lesser-known symptoms than the more recognisable red flags of a cough, fever and sore throat, doctors say.

Hospital rooms are increasingly seeing virus-infected patients presenting with unexpected symptoms such as headache and even conjunctivitis.

And the danger is that because people don’t associate conjunctivitis or a headache alone to COVID-19, they’re unlikely to be tested.

“Although fever, cough and shortness of breath may be the most common symptoms, if 10 per cent or 15 per cent of patients present with COVID – and we have several thousand cases in Melbourne – there will be presentations with headache and with conjunctivitis,” Dr Carmel Crock, the head of emergency at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, told the ABC’s 7.30.

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7.30 reported the hospital’s emergency department recently treated two patients with ear and headaches who gave them a “nasty surprise” when they later tested positive for COVID-19.

“They were seen by our ear, nose and throat doctor, who ruled out an ear cause of the pain and they were then referred to see the eye doctor as well, who tried to rule out eye causes for the headache,” Dr Crocks said.

“One of the patients had a preoperative COVID test, which was positive. Then we saw another case about 48 hours later and again that patient, we actually referred for COVID testing and that COVID testing was positive.”

ABC medical expert Dr Norman Swan said the danger of the scenario was because the patients didn’t meet the testing criteria for COVID-19, “at least one of these patients hung around the emergency department for some time, rather than being isolated”.

The eye infection conjunctivitis was also emerging as a more surprising symptom experienced by people with COVID-19.

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The World Health Organisation has added it to its list of less common symptoms, along with headache, aches and pains, diarrhoea and skin rash, among others.

“In the international literature, COVID can present with conjunctivitis,” Dr Crocks said.

“We have been really particular with our PPE around patients with conjunctivitis in case that’s the first presentation of COVID,” she said.

Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services identifies fever, chills or sweats, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose and loss of sense of smell or taste as key COVID-19 symptoms that may prompt testing.

NSW Health also notes the possibility of muscle and joint pain, headache and fatigue.

Dr Swan said relying mainly on respiratory symptoms as possible signals of COVID-19 was “probably a mistake”.

He said while experiences varied, a recent study found symptoms typically appeared in the following order: fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and headaches, and then sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Loss of smell and taste, red eyes and rashes may also develop.

The study by researchers from the University of South California was based on symptoms of more than 55,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“The point from the evidence is that linking COVID too strongly to respiratory symptoms is probably a mistake,” Dr Swan said.

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