COVID-19 Case Definitions

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The WHO provides and updates case definitions as pertaining to COVID-19, including the following:

Suspect case

A patient with acute respiratory illness (*fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease, e.g., cough, shortness of breath), AND a history of travel to or residence in a location reporting community transmission of COVID-19 disease during the 14 days prior to symptom onset.

     *Only 44% of patients were noted to have fever on admission, but 89% of patients demonstrated fever during hospitalization NEJM March 30, 2020 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2004500  

OR

A patient with any acute respiratory illness AND having been in contact with a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case (see definition of contact) in the last 14 days prior to symptom onset;

OR

A patient with severe acute respiratory illness (fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease, e.g., cough, shortness of breath; AND requiring hospitalization) AND in the absence of an alternative diagnosis that fully explains the clinical presentation.

Probable case

A suspect case for whom testing for the COVID-19 virus is inconclusive.

  • Inconclusive being the result of the test reported by the laboratory.

OR

A suspect case for whom testing could not be performed for any reason.

Confirmed case

A person with laboratory confirmation of COVID-19 infection, irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms.

• Technical guidance for laboratory testing can be found here.

Definition of contact

A contact is a person who experienced any one of the following exposures during the 2 days before and the 14 days

after the onset of symptoms of a probable or confirmed case:

1. Face-to-face contact with a probable or confirmed case within 1 meter and for more than 15 minutes;

2. Direct physical contact with a probable or confirmed case;

3. Direct care for a patient with probable or confirmed COVID-19 disease without using proper personal

protective equipment

OR

4. Other situations as indicated by local risk assessments. Note: for confirmed asymptomatic cases, the period of contact is measured as the 2 days before through the 14 days after the date on which the sample was taken which led to confirmation.

Julie Grishaw, ACNP

Senior Editor, McGraw-Hill Education

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