Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

ObjectivesWe explore the importance of SARS-CoV-2 sentinel surveillance testing in primary care during a regional COVID-19 outbreak in Austria.DesignProspective cohort study.SettingA single sentinel practice serving 22 829 people in the ski-resort of Schladming-Dachstein.ParticipantsAll 73 patients presenting with mild-to-moderate flu-like symptoms between 24 February and 03 April, 2020.InterventionNasopharyngeal sampling to detect SARS-CoV-2 using real-time reverse transcriptase-quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR).Outcome measuresWe compared RT-qPCR at presentation with confirmed antibody status. We split the outbreak in two parts, by halving the period from the first to the last case, to characterise three cohorts of patients with confirmed infection: early acute (RT-qPCR reactive) in the first half; and late acute (reactive) and late convalescent (non-reactive) in the second half. For each cohort, we report the number of cases detected, the accuracy of RT-qPCR, the duration and variety of symptoms, and the number of viral clades present.ResultsTwenty-two patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 (eight early acute, seven late acute and seven late convalescent), 44 patients tested SARS-CoV-2 negative and 7 were excluded. The sensitivity of RT-qPCR was 100% among all acute cases, dropping to 68.1% when including convalescent. Test specificity was 100%. Mean duration of symptoms for each group were 2 days (range 1-4) among early acute, 4.4 days (1-7) among late acute and 8 days (2-12) among late convalescent. Confirmed infection was associated with loss of taste. Acute infection was associated with loss of taste, nausea/vomiting, breathlessness, sore throat and myalgia; but not anosmia, fever or cough. Transmission clusters of three viral clades (G, GR and L) were identified.ConclusionsRT-qPCR testing in primary care can rapidly and accurately detect SARS-CoV-2 among people with flu-like illness in a heterogeneous viral outbreak. Targeted testing in primary care can support national sentinel surveillance of COVID-19.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ open

Publication Date





Wolfson Institute of Population Health, Centre for Primary Care, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK


Humans, Sensitivity and Specificity, Cohort Studies, Prospective Studies, Primary Health Care, Austria, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2