Expert weighs in on how to identify early COVID-19 symptoms during outbreak

As New Zealand's cases of COVID-19 from community transmission grow, experts are urging Kiwis to look out for early onset of coronavirus symptoms.

New Zealand's Science Media Centre says while the proportion of infected people who don’t develop symptoms is uncertain, research suggests 30 to 40 percent of all COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic - or from people not recognising symptoms.

Dr Michael Maze, a respiratory and infectious disease physician at the University of Otago, says during the pandemic Kiwis need to be more aware of their health and any changes.

"Overall I think we should be keeping an eye out for the common symptoms, which are a runny nose, loss of smell, cough and feeling tired or 'wiped out'. Fever and achy muscles are also pretty common – but not everyone with COVID-19 will have a fever,"Maze said on Thursday. 

"There are also a much larger range of symptoms as COVID-19 can affect many different parts of the body. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and headache can also occur but are less common."

Dr Maze says Kiwis should be focusing on the more well-known signs of illness rather than less common coronavirus symptoms including dizziness, 'brain fog', rashes and blood clots. 

Other more interesting symptoms include 'COVID Toe' and eye discomfort.

"While unusual symptoms can occur, they are not common. People are better to focus on staying alert and reacting appropriately to respiratory symptoms."

He says Kiwis who feel like they might have a cold or flu "should be getting tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate".

New Zealand recorded the country's first COVID-19 cases from community transmission in 102 days on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield revealed two of the initial four cases visited Rotorua over the weekend and also went to Taupo for a day-trip.

On Thursday 13 new cases of community transmission were recorded, taking the total number of new outbreak cases to 17.

These new cases include a student at Mt Albert Grammar School, three employees at Americold and an employee at Finance Now.

Auckland was placed into alert level 3 lockdown from midday Wednesday as a precaution, the rest of New Zealand entered alert level 2. The restrictions are supposed to last until midnight Friday but may be extended.

The most common COVID symptoms are:

  • Fever (70-90 percent of cases)
  • Dry cough (60-86 percent)
  • Changes in sense of smell and/or taste (64 to 80 percent)
  • Shortness of breath (53-80 percent)
  • Fatigue (38 percent)
  • Muscle pains (15-44 percent)
  • Nausea or diarrhea (15-39 percent)
  • General weakness (25 percent)