'Asymptomatic' COVID-19 carriers often lose sense of smell

Henrietta Strickland
March 25, 2020

"Many patients reporting this have mild [COVID-19] symptoms, sometimes a little bit of cough and sometimes a fever, but there are patients who are not reporting any other symptoms", he says.

But many other individuals experience a loss of smell for afflictions wholly unrelated to COVID-19: nasal and sinus disease, head trauma, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, brain tumors, aging, certain medications, tobacco, diabetes, hypothyroidism and exposure to chemical, toxins or metals. On Twitter, where many people-including celebrities and United Kingdom health minister Nadine Dorries (who tested positive for the virus)-have posted about losing their sense of smell, Robert read that there could be a link between his symptoms and COVID-19.

Our I-Team found another coronavirus patient - a 26-year-old yoga teacher - hospitalized in NY that experienced the same symptom.

Medical experts across the globe have reported that a sudden loss of sense of smell could be a tell-tale sign in otherwise asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers.

"All of this evidence is accumulating very rapidly, but there's nothing yet robustly in print", Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, said in an interview.

It's unclear exactly why the virus produces these early symptoms, but they could prove to be useful in early screening of possible coronavirus cases.

Experts at the World Health Organization say they have not confirmed that loss of smell or taste is a symptom of the coronavirus, but they have not ruled it out.

Anosmia and hyposmia are historically linked to early symptoms of upper-respiratory infections - including previous strains of coronavirus - because the virus damages olfactory bulbs that are involved in the sense of smell. They also pointed to the cases out of Germany, where more than 2 in 3 patients said the lost their sense of smell. He immediately chose to self-isolate and tell his employer.

This means it could be a way for silent carriers to realize they could be carrying the virus and they can self-quarantine. (For those experiencing short-term anosmia, Hummel and Hopkins agree that the sense of smell typically returns as the body recovers).

The American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery wants the loss of smell and altered taste added to list of symptoms considered for COVID-19 screenings.

When doctors at the University Hospital Bonn in Germany recently interviewed more than 100 patients infected with COVID-19, they discovered that almost 70% "described a loss of smell and taste lasting several days", said Dr. Hendrik Streeck, head of the hospital's Institute of Virology. "The more of the public that also use the app, the better the real-time data we will have to combat the outbreak in this country".

"I wouldn't use it alone [to screen patients], but I think if it's added to some of the other symptoms, it adds to the possibility", he says.

Reports of anosmia appearing as a possible symptom of coronavirus have reverberated online in recent days. One of them was a school teacher named Robert, from the north of England, who was eating candy over the weekend when he realized he couldn't taste or smell anything.

Robert, who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, went to work on Monday, not knowing his loss of smell could indicate COVID-19. The app will help researchers identify how fast is the virus spreading in different areas, know which areas are the riskiest, and detect who is most at risk from the diseases. Our twins are fantastically committed, enthusiastic health research participants who have already been studied in unprecedented detail, putting us in a unique position to provide vital answers to support the global fight against COVID-19. "Unfortunately, these patients do not meet current criteria for testing or self isolation".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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