OBJECTIVE: To increase knowledge of discrete symptoms shall help to avoid misinterpretation of test results and to gain better understanding of associations between early symptoms and severe disease to provide additional criteria for targeted early interventions.
DESIGN: Retrospective observational study.
SETTING: Austrian GP practices in the year 2020, patients above 18 years were included.
PARTICIPANTS: We recruited 25 practices which included 295 participants with a positive SARS-CoV‑2 test.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Data collection comprised basic demographic data, risk factors and the recording of symptoms at several points in time in the course of the illness. Descriptive analyses for possible associations between demographics and symptoms were conducted by means of cross tabulation. Group differences (hospitalized yes/no) were assessed using Fisher's exact test. The significance level was set to 0.05; due to the observational character of the study, no adjustment for multiplicity was performed.
RESULTS: Only one third of patients report symptoms generally understood to be typical for COVID‑19. Most patients presented with unspecific complaints. We found symptoms indicating complicated disease, depending on when they appear. The number of symptoms may be a predictor for the need of hospital care. More than 50% of patients still experience symptoms 14 days after onset.
CONCLUSION: Unspecific symptoms are valuable indicators in the detection of early COVID‑19 disease that practitioners and the general public should be aware of also in the interpretation of low sensitivity tests. Monitoring patients using the indicators we identified may help to identify patients who are likely to profit from early intervention.