Sex and age differences in the proportion of experienced symptoms by SARS-CoV-2 serostatus in a community-based cross-sectional study

Demi M. E. Pagen, Stephanie Brinkhues, Nicole H. T. M. Dukers-Muijrers, Casper D. J. den Heijer, Noortje Bouwmeester-Vincken, Daniëlle A. T. Hanssen, Linda M. van de Laar, Inge H. M. van Loo, Paul H. M. Savelkoul, Christian J. P. A. Hoebe

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We examined the possible sex and age differences in the proportion of experienced Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) symptoms in unaware (previously) infected adults, and their uninfected counterparts, estimated by serostatus prior to vaccination, at the end of 2020 (Wuhan strain). A cross-sectional community-based study using a convenience sample of 10001 adult inhabitants of a southern Dutch province, heavily affected by COVID-19, was conducted. Participants donated a blood sample to indicate past infection by serostatus (positive/negative). Experienced symptoms were assessed by questionnaire, before availability of the serological test result. Only participants without confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection were included (n=9715, age range 18-90 years). The seroprevalence was comparable between men (17.3%) and women (18.0%), and participants aged 18-60 years (17.3%) and aged 60 years and older (18.6%). We showed sex and age differences in the proportion experienced symptoms by serostatus in a large cohort of both unaware (untested) seropositive compared with seronegative reference participants. Irritability only differed by serostatus in men (independent of age), while stomach ache, nausea, and dizziness only differed by serostatus in women aged 60 years and older. Besides, the proportion of experiencing pain when breathing and headache differed by serostatus in men aged 18-60 years only. Our study highlights the importance of taking possible sex and age differences into account with respect to acute and long-term COVID-19 outcomes. Identifying symptom profiles for sex and age subgroups can contribute to timely identification of infection, gaining importance once governments currently move away from mass testing again.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere157
Pages (from-to)e157
JournalEpidemiology and Infection
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2022

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