We’ve heard the advice to get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms like fever, cough or fatigue, but what if you have diarrhoea, a headache or a rash?
- Doctors say some COVID-19 patients are presenting with unusual symptoms
- While uncommon, some of these symptoms include inflamed eyes, skin rashes, upset stomachs and even hair loss
- Experts say these symptoms are most likely caused by the systemic inflammation in the body
These conditions are some of a number of health problems listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as less common symptoms of COVID-19.
Emergency physician Stephen Parnis has been on the frontline of Australia’s response to the pandemic, treating hundreds of patients in Melbourne hospitals.
He described COVID-19 as a “bastard of a disease” because of the way it affected so many parts of the body.
“While many patients present with respiratory symptoms, around one third of patients come in with unusual symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea and fatigue,” he said.
“Fatigue is incredibly common. Fatigue is a hard one because it’s almost impossible to measure.”
Dr Parnis said only a small number of people coming into emergency departments with vomiting and diarrhoea tested positive to COVID-19.
“But there are enough [patients] coming that make me uncomfortable,” he said.
He warned unusual symptoms were showing up in all age groups.
“I have seen an elderly patient whose only symptoms were diarrhoea and it turned out they had COVID-19,” Dr Parnis said.
Some symptoms a result of inflammation in the body
Coronavirus is a new virus but doctors are learning more each day about how it affects the body.
It is clear that when someone has COVID-19, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive trying to dampen down the inflammation in the body.
Carol Hodgson from the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre at Monash University said it was during this process many of the less common symptoms arose.
“When you are infected with Covid-19, there is a systemic inflammation and that sort of inflammation may affect major organs in the body,” she said.
Ms Hodgson said more unusual symptoms included loss of appetite and joint or chest pain, but the majority of patients who experienced these also experienced common symptoms.
“International studies have shown you may get some unusual symptoms, even sore or red eyes like conjunctivitis or dryness,” she said.
“There are some very unusual small symptoms, but it’s usually associated with the more common ones.”
Younger people in particular needed to be on the lookout for skin changes and rashes.
Dr Parnis has seen younger patients with rashes known as COVID toes and fingers.
That is a condition where mainly children and young adults have red sores or lesions on their feet and hands, which can be painful and tender.
The bumps usually go away in a few weeks.
“We know that so many viruses can cause funny disappearing rashes on the skin,” he said
“And you have to think about that as a possibility.”
He said several Australian children with COVID-19 were suffering a potentially serious inflammatory condition, similar to Kawasaki disease.
“I am aware of at least one child (aged under 10) in intensive care somewhere in Melbourne,” Dr Parnis said.
International studies have shown COVID-19 increases the risk of falls for older people.
“It seems to set off a weakness and vertigo, which causes them to fall,” Professor Hodgson said.
What are the official COVID-19 symptoms?
The WHO lists the most common symptoms as:
- Dry cough
The WHO lists less common symptoms as:
- Aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
- A skin rash or discolouration of fingers or toes
Serious symptoms are listed as:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
- Loss of speech or movement