A top government adviser has said four new coronavirus symptoms need to be added to the official list.
Prof Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said fatigue, headaches, a sore throat and diarrhoea should be included as key COVID-19 symptoms.
He said this could help pick up about 33% more new cases.
Currently, official NHS advice lists three main symptoms: a new continuous cough, high temperature and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.
Prof Semple, who is professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, argued the four extra symptoms should be added because they are particularly prevalent in people in their 20s and 30s: the age groups in which the virus is currently rapidly circulating in England.
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He told BBC Breakfast on Thursday: “As older people are vaccinated, proportionally more younger people are having disease and they have a different group of symptoms.
“By extending the symptom list, we think we’ll pick up about a third more cases. But, more importantly, we’ll pick them up a day earlier and that offers greater opportunity to break transmission chains and stop further spread of the virus.”
He added the challenge is to make sure people are getting the “right” test for their symptoms, but also encouraged anyone who is feeling unwell with any coronavirus symptoms to get tested.
“We don’t want to overwhelm the PCR testing, we probably want to encourage more people to do lateral flow testing in the community, and then get a PCR to confirm it.”
Lateral flow tests can be sent to homes in order for people to do a test themselves. Anyone who tests positive is then asked to take a confirmatory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which is more sensitive to positive cases of the virus.
Prof Semple was speaking after joint-authoring a report, published in the BMJ on Thursday, in which he and scientific colleagues argued the importance of recognising new symptoms.
They said the three official symptoms are “just a few of many”, and limiting it to these “could miss many cases”.
They argued “improvements in transmission control are urgently needed” in order to identify more infections as the virus, driven by the 60% more infectious Delta variant, spreads among younger people following the easing of restrictions.
The latest government age group infection data for England (presented in the heat map, above) highlight comparatively huge case rates in younger people.
In the seven days up to 25 June, the latest date for which figures are available, 506 per 100,000 20 to 24-year-olds had tested positive for the virus. It compares to the 60 to 64 age category, in which just 39 per 100,000 had tested positive.
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