Objective To describe the clinical presentation, course of disease and health-care seeking behaviour of the first few hundred cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Methods We implemented the World Health Organization’s First Few X cases and contacts investigation protocol for COVID-19. Trained public health professionals collected information on 381 virologically confirmed COVID-19 cases from 31 January 2020 to 9 April 2020. We actively followed up cases to identify exposure to infection, symptoms and outcomes. We also collected limited data on 752 symptomatic people testing negative for COVID-19, as a control group for analyses of the sensitivity, specificity and predictive value of symptoms.

Findings Approximately half of the COVID-19 cases were imported (196 cases; 51.4%), of whom the majority had recent travel to Italy (140 cases; 71.4%). Of the 94 (24.7%) secondary cases, almost all reported close contact with a confirmed case (93 cases; 98.9%), many through household contact (37 cases; 39.8%). By age, a lower proportion of children had COVID-19. Most cases presented with cough, fever and fatigue. The sensitivity and specificity of symptoms varied by age, with nonlinear relationships with age. Although the proportion of COVID-19 cases with fever increased with age, for those with other respiratory infections the occurrence of fever decreased with age. The occurrence of shortness of breath also increased with age in a greater proportion of COVID-19 cases.

Conclusion The study has provided useful evidence for generating case definitions and has informed modelling studies of the likely burden of COVID-19.

Cite as

Boddington, N., Charlett, A., Elgohari, S., Byers, C., Coughlan, L., Vilaplana, T., Whillock, R., Sinnathamby, M., Panagiotopoulos, N., Letley, L., MacDonald, P., Vivancos, R., Edeghere, O., Shingleton, J., Bennett, E., Cottrell, S., McMenamin, J., Zambon, M., Ramsay, M., Dabrera, G., Saliba, V. & Bernal, J. 2020, 'Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of early COVID-19 cases, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland', Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 99(3), pp. 178-189. https://dx.doi.org/10.2471/BLT.20.265603

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Last updated: 11 November 2022
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