Separating the wheat from the chaff—COVID-19 in a German emergency department : a case-control study

Background: COVID-19 pandemia is a major challenge to worldwide health care systems. Whereas the majority of disease presents with mild symptoms that can be treated as outpatients, severely ill COVID-19 patients and patients presenting with similar symptoms cross their ways in the emergency department. Especially, the variety of symptoms is challenging with primary triage. Are there parameters to distinguish between proven COVID-19 and without before? How can a safe and efficient management of these inpatients be achieved?

Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of 314 consecutive inpatient patients who presented with possible symptoms of COVID-19 in a German emergency department between March and April 2020 and were tested with a SARS-Cov-2 nasopharyngeal swab. Clinical parameters, Manchester Triage System categories, and lab results were compared between patients with positive and negative test results for SARS-Cov-2. Furthermore, we present the existing COVID-19 workflow model of the university hospital in Essen which proved to be efficient during pandemia.

Results: Forty-three of the 314 patients (13.7%) were tested positive for COVID-19 by SARS-Cov-2 nasopharyngeal swab. We did not find any laboratory parameter to distinguish safely between patients with COVID-19 and those with similar symptoms. Dysgeusia was the only clinical symptom that was significantly more frequent among COVID-19 patients.

Conclusion: Dysgeusia seems to be a typical symptom for COVID-19, which occurred in 14% of our COVID-19 patients. However, no valid parameters could be found to distinguish clinically between COVID-19 and other diseases with similar symptoms. Therefore, early testing, a strict isolation policy, and proper personal protection are crucial to maintain workflow and safety of patients and ED staff for the months to come.


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