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Anosmia and other SARS-CoV-2 positive test-associated symptoms, across three national, digital surveillance platforms as the COVID-19 pandemic and response unfolded: an observation study

By Carole Helene Sudre, Ayya Keshet, Mark S Graham, Amit D. Joshi, Smadar Shilo, Hagai Rossman, Benjamin Murray, Erika Molteni, Kerstin Klaser, Liane S Canas, Michela Antonelli, Marc Modat, Joan Capdevila Pujol, Sajaysurya Ganesh, Jonathan Wolf, Tomer Meir, Andrew T. Chan, Claire J Steves, Timothy Spector, John S Brownstein, Eran Segal, Sebastien Ourselin, Christina M Astley

Posted 16 Dec 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.15.20248096

Background: Multiple participatory surveillance platforms were developed across the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a real-time understanding of community-wide COVID-19 epidemiology. During this time, testing criteria broadened and healthcare policies matured. We sought to test whether there were consistent associations of symptoms with SARS-CoV-2 test status across three national surveillance platforms, during periods of testing and policy changes, and whether inconsistencies could better inform our understanding and future studies as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. Methods: Four months (1st April 2020 to 31st July 2020) of observation through three volunteer COVID-19 digital surveillance platforms targeting communities in three countries (Israel, United Kingdom, and United States). Logistic regression of self-reported symptom on self-reported SARS-CoV-2 test status (or test access), adjusted for age and sex, in each of the study cohorts. Odds ratios over time were compared to known changes in testing policies and fluctuations in COVID-19 incidence. Findings: Anosmia/ageusia was the strongest, most consistent symptom associated with a positive COVID-19 test, based on 658325 tests (5% positive) from over 10 million respondents in three digital surveillance platforms using longitudinal and cross-sectional survey methodologies. During higher-incidence periods with broader testing criteria, core COVID-19 symptoms were more strongly associated with test status. Lower incidence periods had, overall, larger confidence intervals. Interpretation: The strong association of anosmia/ageusia with self-reported SARS-CoV-2 test positivity is omnipresent, supporting its validity as a reliable COVID-19 signal, regardless of the participatory surveillance platform or testing policy. This analysis highlights that precise effect estimates, as well as an understanding of test access patterns to interpret differences, are best done only when incidence is high. These findings strongly support the need for testing access to be as open as possible both for real-time epidemiologic investigation and public health utility.

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