So far, 14,751 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK. That number is expected to grow dramatically as more testing reveals people who are only experiencing mild symptoms.
For most of us, the official NHS symptom checker is the best test currently available.
But experts have warned that the test – which asks a maximum of nine questions – is too simplistic and could miss some cases.
In France, the equivalent online test consists of 21 questions and focuses on subtle tell-tale Covid-19 symptoms such as the disappearance of the sense of taste and aching limbs.
In the USA, where an explosive coronavirus outbreak has seen the number of confirmed cases go from just over 6,000 a week ago to over 100,000 positive diagnoses today, members of the public can describe their symptoms to an AI chatbot called Clara that was designed by Microsoft.
But UK citizens are simply asked a handful of multiple-choice questions such as “Do you have a high temperature”, “Do you have a new continuous cough?” and “Are you so breathless that you are unable to speak more than a few words?”
People in the early stages of Covid-19 might well answer “no” to one of these questions and carry on with shopping and other activities that could potentially spread the infection further.
Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Nottingham, says that he finds the NHS website’s definition of a Covid-19 infection too narrow, potentially missing huge numbers of cases: “When you look at the medical reports describing how cases are presenting,” he told the Daily Telegraph, “particularly mild infections, coronavirus patients clearly have cold-like symptoms."
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He added: “Nobody at any other time would try and do a differential diagnosis for a respiratory virus based on symptoms alone. Yet here we are with a new virus relying on that because we don’t have the capacity to test.”
Of course, on lockdown with nothing else to think about, it’s easy to imagine all manner of illnesses.
Jane Ogden, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, says “Much as the serious symptoms of COVID 19 are clearly indisputable, those experienced in the early days following exposure to the virus are all too familiar,” pointing out that plenty of non-fatal colds and sniffles can mimic the early stages of coronavirus
If in doubt though, play it safe. Stay indoors and take it easy.
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