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Study Uncovers Six COVID-19 Symptom Clusters

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July 29, 2020 -- Six different “types” of COVID-19 exist, which all have a distinct cluster of symptoms, according to a new study from researchers at King’s College London.

The study is based on data from the COVID Symptom Study app, which followed 1,600 patients in the UK and U.S. in March and April. The app asks people to log their health and symptoms on a daily basis.

The research team used a machine-learning algorithm to analyze the data and group the symptoms, and then they tested the algorithm by running a second set of data with 1,000 users in the UK, U.S. and Sweden who logged symptoms in May.

Everyone who reported symptoms had a headache and loss of smell, and their cluster varied by other issues that aren’t widely known as COVID-19 symptoms, such as abdominal pain or confusion.

Importantly, the separate clusters differed in severity and the need for respiratory support during hospitalization, according to the report.

“The findings have major implications for clinical management of COVID-19 and could help doctors predict who is most at risk and likely to need hospital care in a second wave of coronavirus infections,” the authors wrote.

Here are the six clusters:

  1. “Flu-like” with no fever: Headache, loss of smell, muscle pains, cough, sore throat, chest pain, no fever
  2. “Flu-like” with fever: Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat, hoarseness, fever, loss of appetite
  3. Gastrointestinal: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sore throat, chest pain, no cough
  4. Severe, level 1 with fatigue: Headache, loss of smell, cough, fever, hoarseness, chest pain, fatigue
  5. Severe, level 2 with confusion: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain
  6. Severe, level 3 with abdominal and respiratory pain: Headache, loss of smell, loss of appetite, cough, fever, hoarseness, sore throat, chest pain, fatigue, confusion, muscle pain, shortness of breath, diarrhea, abdominal pain

People in the three “severe” clusters were more likely to require oxygen or ventilation in a hospital, the researchers found. About half of patients in cluster 6 ended up in the hospital, as compared with 16% of those in cluster 1.

In general, people in the severe clusters also tended to be older, frailer and have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or lung diseases.

“This approach is helping us to understand the unfolding story of this disease in each patient so they can get the best care,” Carole Sudre, the lead researcher, said in the statement.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 29, 2020

Sources

COVID Symptom Study, “The COVID Symptom Study has revealed six distinct ‘types’ of COVID-19.”

COVID Symptom Study, “App homepage.”

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