Fever and losing the sense of taste or smell are not the most common symptoms of people who test positive for coronavirus, a testing survey has found.
People infected with Covid in England were more likely to feel fatigued or to develop head or muscle aches.
However, current NHS Test and Trace rules mean people only suffering those signs of the illness would not be able to get a swab test. Tests are reserved for people who have a new cough, a fever or anosmia – which is a change in, or loss of, their sense of smell or taste.
Almost half of people don’t get any symptoms at all, the Office for National Statistics said, and a maximum of one in three get the most common sign – a cough.
The Department of Health has already admitted it only detects a fraction of people with coronavirus through its testing scheme.
Experts and doctors have repeatedly called for more symptoms to be included in the list so more cases can be weeded out. The World Health Organization and officials in the US recognise other less common symptoms such as muscle pain and diarrhoea.
A broader definition of who is eligible for a swab might increase the positive rate but it could also lead to huge demand from people who have extremely common complaints – for example, only a tiny proportion of people with headaches are likely to have coronavirus and many more will have colds or simply be tired or dehydrated.
Office for National Statistics testing shows that fewer than half of people testing positive for coronavirus had any symptoms at all, with cough the most common at almost 30% in England
Experts and doctors have repeatedly called for more symptoms to be included in the list that make someone eligible for a swab test – which currently only includes cough, fever and lost smell or taste (pictured left, a woman swabs her own throat at a centre in West Ealing, London)
The ONS report, which was based on random community testing of around 9,000 people rather than people who came forward for swabs, found that 47 per cent of positive cases had symptoms.
This was similar in other parts of the UK, at 55 per cent in Wales, 47 per cent in Scotland and 38 per cent in Northern Ireland.
WHICH SYMPTOMS ARE MOST COMMON?
Office for National Statistics data for England, between October and January, shows these were the most common symptoms among people testing positive for coronavirus:
Lost taste/ smell
Loss of taste
Loss of smell
Short of breath
Most common symptoms among those who did get them were coughs, fatigue and weakness and headache.
Those symptoms each affected more than 25 per cent of people who were testing positive, the survey found.
By comparison in England, 19 per cent of people developed a fever and 22 per cent said they lost either their sense of taste or smell.
Swab tests were done by people across the UK between October 1 and January 30 and they were asked to describe any symptoms they had had within seven days of the test.
Symptoms of coronavirus appear to have become more common with the arrival of the new variant, first found in Kent, which spreads faster and is now dominant in England.
A report in January found that 53 per cent of people infected with that variant had symptoms, compared to 48 per cent of those who caught an older version.
Cough, sore throat, fatigue and muscle aches all became more common with the new variant, while the loss of taste and smell became less common.
Doctors and experts have called for the criteria for coronavirus testing to be widened in the UK repeatedly over the course of the pandemic.
But policy makers must balance the benefit of picking up more positive cases that would have otherwise been missed with the risk that the testing system would become overwhelmed by people with symptoms unlikely to be coronavirus.
Only a small percentage of people even with the three main symptoms actually have coronavirus – currently only about 5.5 per cent of tests taken by members of the public are positive, according to Public Health England data.
This rose to 18 per cent at the height of the second wave over Christmas and the new year, but this still meant eight out of 10 people who thought they had the virus did not.
Scientists at King’s College London who lead the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app have repeatedly called on ministers to expand their list.
Their app allows users to log symptoms whenever they suffer them and then whether they test positive for the virus, revealing other warning signs.
The team masterminded the push to get the NHS to include anosmia — or loss of taste and smell — in the symptoms list after it was previously excluded at the start of the pandemic.