Loss of smell and taste are highly reliable indicators of COVID-19

People with COVID-19 experience a wide range of symptoms – from fever to various pains and aches. One of the weirder symptoms of this infection is loss of sense of smell and taste. And this seems to be more common than most people think – scientists at UCL found that four out of five people who experienced a sudden loss of smell or taste tested positive for COVID-19.

In the UK people with loss of smell and/or taste are advised to isolate and get tested for COVID-19. Image credit: Simon Burchell via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Loss of any sense is very scary. If you woke up one day being completely blind, you would be terrified. And yet for some reason loss of smell or taste is seen as something minor by some people. Scientists contacted 590 people who had reported sudden loss in their sense of smell and/or taste. These people visited primary care centres in London for this reason and 567 had telemedicine consultation with a healthcare professional. Because loss of smell and taste are known symptoms of COVID-19, these people were directed to have tests done for COVID-19.

This research showed that 77.6 % of 567 people with smell and/or taste loss had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. This means that they had the COVID-19 disease before or still had it at the moment. Scientists say that this confirms that loss of smell and taste are reliable indicators for COVID-19. In fact, this might be a more common symptom than others – as many as 39.8 % of participants in this study had neither cough nor fever. Also, scientists noticed that loss of smell was a better COVID-19 indicator than loss of taste – those who couldn’t smell anything were three times more likely to have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

In the UK people who experience sudden onset loss of smell or taste are advised to self-isolate and seek a COVID-19 test, but in many other countries these symptoms are ignored. Even more shocking is that people experiencing these symptoms are also ignorant about them. As the second wave of COVID-19 sets in, it will be very important to identify infected people earlier. Scientists say that healthcare professionals and policy makers should pay more attention to this particular symptom.

Professor Rachel Batterham, lead author of the study, said: “Our findings show that loss of smell and taste is a highly reliable indicator that someone is likely to have Covid-19 and if we are to reduce the spread of this pandemic, it should now be considered by governments globally as a criterion for self-isolation, testing, and contact tracing.”

Scientists have a simple message to people – if you suddenly lost your ability to smell everyday odours that you were able to smell before, seek a COVID-19 test. Scientists estimate that 31-85 % of Covid-19 patients exhibit the loss of smell and/or taste. This is a very important symptom, which could help identifying those COVID-19 patients who do not experience fever, cough or other cold-like symptoms.


Source: UCL

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