NHS bosses need to expand the UK’s official Covid symptom list

A runny nose, sore throat and headache should be added to Britain’s official list of coronavirus symptoms, GPs have urged.

The NHS says the only three tell-tale signs of the illness are a fever, cough or loss of taste and smell. But the World Health Organization and officials in the US recognise other less common symptoms such as muscle pain and diarrhoea.

A group of 140 family doctors in London have called on health chiefs to expand the number of recognised symptoms. 

They say many patients with milder signs have not even considered they could have the virus and have not self-isolated when they are most infectious.

The doctors add they must encourage patients to lie in order to get a test, which are only available to those with the three recognised symptoms. 

Expanding the scheme to include runny noses in the depth of winter would likely pile immense pressure on the UK’s Test and Trace system.

Top scientists have been campaigning for the official list to be expanded for months, after warning it does not catch enough infections in the early stages. 

Dr Alex Sohal, a GP in Tower Hamlets, led the letter to the BMJ. She said that many patients with mild symptoms do not consider they have the virus

Dr Alex Sohal, a GP in Tower Hamlets and honorary clinical lecturer at Queen Mary University, led the letter to the British Medical Journal.

She said her practice often has patients with runny noses, sore throats, hoarseness, muscle pain, fatigue and headaches who subsequently test positive for Covid.

‘The national publicity campaign focuses on cough, high temperature, and loss of smell or taste as symptoms to be aware of — only patients with these symptoms are able to access a covid-19 test online through the NHS test booking site,’ she wrote.

‘GPs have to advise patients to be dishonest to get a Covid test.’

She said it’s ‘vital’ the UK changes its definition of a Covid infection to be consistent with the WHO.

The WHO includes a runny nose, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhoea in its list of symptoms of the virus.

Dr Sohal said: ‘Tell the public, especially those who have to go out to work and their employers, that even those with mild symptoms (not only a cough, high temperature, and a loss of smell or taste) should not go out, prioritising the first five days of self-isolation when they are most likely to be infectious.


Below are the most common symptoms of coronavirus as reported by 4,182 people who tested positive for the disease.

They entered their symptoms into the Covid Symptom Study app.

% of individuals ever experiencing symptom



Loss of smell

Persistent cough

Sore throat


Shortness of breath 








Skipped meals

Chest pain

Hoarse voice


Severe fatigue

Abdominal pain


Severe shortness of breath 









‘This will help to get — and keep — us out of this indefinite lockdown, as Covid-19 becomes increasingly endemic globally. Ignoring this will be at our peril.’

Scientists at King’s College London who lead the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app have also repeatedly called on ministers to expand their list.

Their app allows users to log symptoms whenever they suffer them and then whether they test positive for the virus, revealing other warning signs.

The team masterminded the push to get the NHS to include anosmia — or loss of taste and smell — in the symptoms list after it was previously excluded at the start of the pandemic.

They also published a study yesterday revealing the Kent variant of the virus did not trigger any significantly different symptoms to other strains of the virus.

This means an updated list would still cover all strains of the virus, making an infection easier to identify.

Responding to the doctors calls, a spokesman from the Department of Health said: ‘An expert and independent scientific group keeps the list of symptoms of Covid-19 under constant review as our understanding of the virus continues to evolve.

‘Anyone experiencing the main symptoms of coronavirus – a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste – should self-isolate and get a test as soon as possible.’

Dr Claire Steves, who was involved in the study published yesterday, said it showed the Kent variant ‘does not appear to alter symptoms, severity or duration of Covid when we take account of the changing seasons and age of people affected’. 

She added: ‘It’s important to emphasise the range of symptoms both the new and the old variant can cause, such as headaches and sore throat, in addition to the classic triad of cough, fever and loss of smell.’

It comes after Britain recorded a seven-week low of 18,607 positive tests for the virus yesterday.

For comparison, 22,195 infections and 592 deaths were recorded last Monday, meaning cases have fallen by 16.2 per cent week-on-week and deaths by 31.4 per cent.

Limiting the spread of the virus with an expanded list could cause cases to fall faster. Above are patients at the Royal London Hospital

Limiting the spread of the virus with an expanded list could cause cases to fall faster. Above are patients at the Royal London Hospital

It comes after the NHS was urged last week to include ‘Covid tongue’ in its symptoms checklist amid fears it is becoming more widespread.

Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, said he’s seeing an increasing number of infected patients with sores on their tongue, unusual mouth ulcers and swollen tongues.

The epidemiologist, who is monitoring the UK crisis through his Covid symptom tracker app used by millions of Brits, warned one in five sufferers show symptoms the NHS doesn’t recognise.

Professor Spector warned 20 per cent of infectious people may be slipping through the cracks and continuing to spread the disease because of it.

The medical name for acute swelling of the tongue as the result of a viral infection is ‘glossitis’. Professor Spector tweeted about the symptom last week.

He said: ‘One in five people with Covid still present with less common symptoms that don’t get on the official PHE list – such as skin rashes.

‘Seeing increasing numbers of Covid tongues and strange mouth ulcers. If you have a strange symptom or even just headache and fatigue stay at home!’

He added today: ‘Keep those Covid tongue pics coming – important to draw attention to these, skin rashes, Covid toes and the 20 plus other symptoms of Covid that go ignored.

‘Thirty-five per cent of people have non-classic symptoms in the first three days when most infective.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk