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USC Researchers Uncover Likely Order Of COVID-19 Symptoms

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Researchers at the University of Southern California announced Thursday that they have found the likely order in which COVID-19 symptoms first appear.

Hospital In El Centro, California Copes With Area's Rise In Coronavirus Infections
EL CENTRO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 28: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A nurse cares for a coronavirus (COVID-19) patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at El Centro Regional Medical Center in hard-hit Imperial County on July 28, 2020 in El Centro, California. Imperial County currently suffers from the highest mortality and near-highest infection rates from COVID-19 in California. The rural county, which is 85 percent Latino, borders Mexico and Arizona and endures high poverty rates and air pollution while also being medically underserved. In California, Latinos make up about 39 percent of the population but account for 55 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases amid the pandemic. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

According to a new study, people who contract the virus first develop a fever, followed by a cough and muscle pain, then nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

The scientists said knowing the order of COVID-19's symptoms could help those who have contracted the virus know when to seek care and might aid in their decision to self isolate sooner — preventing further spread.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, was led by doctoral candidate Joseph Larsen and scientists Peter Kuhn and James Hicks at the USC Michelson Center's Convergent Science Institute in Cancer.

The information could also help doctors rule out other illnesses and allow them to better treat patients earlier in their illness — possibly improving outcomes.

"This order is especially important to know when we have overlapping cycles of illnesses like the flu that coincide with infections of COVID-19," Kuhn, a USC professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, and aerospace and mechanical engineering, said. "Doctors can determine what steps to take to care for the patient, and they may prevent the patient's condition from worsening."

The scientists said fever and cough are frequently associated with a variety of respiratory illnesses, including influenza, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, but said the timing and additional symptoms in the gastrointestinal tract set COVID-19 apart.

"The order of the symptoms matter, " Larsen said. "Knowing that each illness progresses differently means that doctors can identify sooner whether someone likely has COVID-19, or another illness, which can help them make better treatment decisions."

To determine the timeline of COVID symptoms, the study's authors analyzed more than 55,000 confirmed coronavirus cases collected by the World Health Organization in China from Feb 16-24. They also studied a dataset of nearly 1,100 cases collected by the China Medical Treatment Expert Group via the National Health Commission of China from Dec. 11-Jan. 29.

The researchers also examined data from 2,470 influenza cases in North America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere reported between 1994 and 1998 to compare the order of COVID-19 symptoms to those of the common flu.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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