A primary care approach to the COVID-19 pandemic: clinical features and natural history of 2,073 suspected cases in the Corona Sao Caetano programme, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Abstract

Background: Despite most cases not requiring hospital care, there are limited community-based clinical data on COVID-19. Methods and findings: The Corona Sao Caetano program is a primary care initiative offering COVID-19 care to all residents of Sao Caetano do Sul, Brazil. After triage of potentially severe cases, consecutive patients presenting between 13th April and 13th May 2020 were tested at home with SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcriptase (RT) PCR; positive patients were followed up for 14 days. RT-PCR-negative patients were offered SARS-CoV-2 serology. We describe the clinical features, virology and natural history of this prospective population-based cohort. Of 2,073 suspected COVID-19 cases, 1,583 (76.4%) were tested by RT-PCR, of whom 444 (28.0%, 95%CI: 25.9% - 30.3%) were positive; 604/1,136 (53%) RT-PCR-negative patients underwent serology, of whom 52 (8.6%) tested SARS-CoV-2 seropositive. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 were cough, fatigue, myalgia and headache; whereas self-reported fever, anosmia, and ageusia were most associated with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. RT-PCR cycle thresholds were lower in men, older patients, those with fever and arthralgia, and around symptom onset. The rates of hospitalization and death among 444 RT-PCR-positive cases were 6.7% and 0.7%, respectively, with older age and obesity more frequent in the hospitalized group. Conclusions: COVID-19 presents similarly to other mild respiratory disease in primary care. Some symptoms assist the differential diagnosis. Most patients can be managed at home.

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