More than half of people who test positive for Covid in the UK suffer no symptoms, official figures revealed today.
Office for National Statistics data showed 53 per cent of those diagnosed with the virus said they had no warning signs — including a fever or cough.
The survey — which looked at 10,000 people across the UK between December and March — suggested asymptomatic transmission is more common than previously feared.
Experts have previously said they believe symptomless people account for a third of all new infections.
Among those that did have symptoms, the ONS data showed fatigue was the most commonly reported symptom, followed by a headache and a cough.
The NHS only lists a temperature, new continuous cough and loss of taste and smell as tell-tale signs of the virus.
Yet fewer than a fifth (18 per cent) of people reported a loss or taste of smell as their only symptom.
Health chiefs have been repeatedly criticised for not including the wide-range of side effects which have been linked to the disease.
Sarah Crofts, an ONS statistician said: ‘Our analysis today highlights the range of symptoms people can experience with Covid.’
‘The classic symptoms of fatigue, headache and cough are still the most commonly reported by those infected with the virus, while only around one in five experience loss of taste or smell only.
‘Around half of those we tested did not report any symptoms even whilst having high levels of the virus present in their body.
‘This underlines that people in the community may unknowingly have the virus and potentially transmit it to others.’
She added: ‘It is vital we continue to measure infection levels in the population and collect information on symptoms so we can identify any changes that may otherwise go undetected.’
Symptoms of people who tested positive for coronavirus with a high viral load were analysed. They were swabbed between December 1 last year and March 22.
The least common symptoms were abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and nausea or vomiting.
WHAT WERE THE MOST COMMON SYMPTOMS IN MARCH 2021?
Muscle ache myalgia
29.2 per cent
28.2 per cent
26.8 per cent
21.0 per cent
Loss of taste or smell
19.9 per cent
19.9 per cent
17.5 per cent
Loss of taste
Loss of smell
Shortness of breath
15.1 per cent
14.4 per cent
13.8 per cent
11.7 per cent
8.9 per cent
6.2 per cent
5.5 per cent
Data showed there was an increase in all symptoms of than loss of taste and smell from December to February.
Some 55 per cent of people who tested positive reported they had no symptoms in December.
The figure dropped slightly in January (46 per cent) and February (47 per cent) but increased again to 53 per cent in March.
All figures are for people in private households and excludes cases in hospitals, care homes and other institutional settings.
Respondents self-reported symptoms and they were not professionally diagnosed.
Experts praised the study for looking specifically at people who had a high viral load and therefore weren’t likely to be in the early or late stages of infection and more likely to report no symptoms.
Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said the study showed fewer than half of people at the height of their infection showed symtoms in March.
But he critiqued the survey for only including 12 possible symptoms of Covid.
He said: ‘The only specific symptoms that can be reported on are the 12 that are included in the infection survey questionnaire, and they don’t cover for example) things like palpitations of difficulty concentrating.
‘ONS do ask about those, but only in relation to “long Covid”, so they aren’t considered separately in these data.
‘The data in this bulletin on whether someone has symptoms aren’t just based on these specific 12 symptoms though.
‘There is a question on the questionnaire asking whether the person believes they have any symptoms at all “consistent with Covid-19 infection”, so people might have reported that they had a symptom that wasn’t on the list of 12.
‘But if they did that, there’s no way to know what that symptom was.’
It comes as professor Tim Spector an epidemiologist at King’s College London, today warned people to be aware of ‘all 20 Covid symptoms’ and to get tested and stay at home if they experience any of them.
He said: ‘This week the government announced plans to make home-based lateral flow tests accessible as a tactic to catch more cases.
‘According to our own data, five in 1000 of these tests give a false positive result, so we are encouraging people to take a lateral flow test at least twice if positive and confirm it with a full NHS PCR test.
‘However, people also need to know all the 20 symptoms, including sore throat, headache and fatigue, not just the classic three. So if you feel unwell with any of the symptoms of Covid, stay at home and get a test.’