COVID-19 is a pandemic viral disease with catastrophic global impact. This disease is more contagious than influenza such that cluster outbreaks occur frequently. If patients with symptoms quickly underwent testing and contact tracing, these outbreaks could be contained. Unfortunately, COVID-19 patients have symptoms similar to other common illnesses.
Here, we hypothesize the order of symptom occurrence could help patients and medical professionals more quickly distinguish COVID-19 from other respiratory diseases, yet such essential information is largely unavailable. To this end, we apply a Markov Process to a graded partially ordered set based on clinical observations of COVID-19 cases to ascertain the most likely order of discernible symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, nausea/vomiting, and diarrhea) in COVID-19 patients.
We then compared the progression of these symptoms in COVID-19 to other respiratory diseases, such as influenza, SARS, and MERS, to observe if the diseases present differently. Our model predicts that influenza initiates with cough, whereas COVID-19 like other coronavirus-related diseases initiates with fever. However, COVID-19 differs from SARS and MERS in the order of gastrointestinal symptoms. Our results support the notion that fever should be used to screen for entry into facilities as regions begin to reopen after the outbreak of Spring 2020.
Additionally, our findings suggest that good clinical practice should involve recording the order of symptom occurrence in COVID-19 and other diseases. If such a systemic clinical practice had been standard since ancient diseases, perhaps the transition from local outbreak to pandemic could have been avoided.