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Many care home residents asymptomatic or have atypical COVID-19 symptoms, Norfolk study finds

PUBLISHED: 07:18 12 August 2020 | UPDATED: 07:58 12 August 2020

A study in north Norfolk care homes has shown many residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic or had atypical symptoms. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

A study in north Norfolk care homes has shown many residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic or had atypical symptoms. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

PA Wire/PA Images

Care home residents with coronavirus may be asymptomatic or not display typical symptoms, and should be tested if they are feeling generally unwell, new research conducted in Norfolk indicates.

In response to COVID-19, a new testing service was rolled out in care homes in north Norfolk, which found about half of residents who tested positive were asymptomatic, but some went on to develop symptoms.

According to the study by the University of East Anglia and North Norfolk Primary Care, in many cases symptoms were not typical and did not include a high temperature, cough or loss of smell.

Instead, residents who tested positive for COVID-19 often presented as generally unwell, researchers say in the study, yet to be peer-reviewed.

The team suggests effective testing and screening of residents and staff in care homes is vital for identifying cases and controlling the spread of the virus.

Dr Paul Everden, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and innovation lead for north Norfolk primary care, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting older people, especially in care homes.

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“We wanted to develop a service with our local GPs, implemented by our enhanced care home team, to keep residents and staff safe by early identification of infection.”

The ECHT tested 518 residents in 44 care homes, and 340 staff in 10 care homes, for COVID-19 using nose and throat swabs between April 7 and June 29.

The team found 103 residents tested positive in 14 homes and 49 staff in seven homes. However, only 38 (37pc) had typical symptoms at the time of the test.

More than half (54 residents) were completely asymptomatic when tested, and 12 developed symptoms within 14 days.

Some of those who tested positive did experience typical symptoms such as a cough or fever, but feeling generally unwell was also common, a pre-print of the study shows.

Dr Everden said although the service evaluation was carried out in north Norfolk, similar results would be expected nationally.

He said: “These findings are really vital for protecting care home communities and we hope they will help keep residents and staff safe - particularly if we are to face future waves of the pandemic in the UK.”

MORE: Rise in cases in Great Yarmouth as new coronavirus figures released


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