TEAM: A loss of taste and smell: the new coronavirus symptom?

Henrietta Strickland
March 26, 2020

Anosmia (loss of smell) and hyposmia (reduced ability to smell) are both historically linked to early symptoms of upper respiratory infections such as the previous strains of coronavirus.

Should the loss of sense of smell be added to the list of COVID-19 symptoms?

British ear, nose, and throat doctors have come across data, however limited, citing reports from around the world that adults who lose their sense of smell and taste should isolate themselves for seven days - even if they have no additional COVID-19 symptoms, reports the New York Times.

Some experts said it is hard to assess whether the loss of smell or taste are signs of infection with the COVID-19 virus, which emerged in China late past year.

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. They looked at reports of cases from ENT consultants the world over and concluded that adults anywhere in the world who suddenly can not smell properly any more should go into self-isolation for seven days to stop further transmission of the disease and delay its spread within the community.

Along with Nirmal Kumar, president of ENT UK which is a group representing ear, nose, and throat doctors in Britain, Hopkins issued a joint statement in which they urge healthcare workers to use PPE when treating any patients who have lost the sense of smell.

"A loss of smell or a loss of taste is something that we're looking into", Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of WHO's emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said on a briefing call with reporters on Monday.

About 40% of patients recovering from a viral illness report a loss of smell, according to Dr. D.J. Verret, who's double board certified in otolaryngology, head and neck, and facial plastic surgery. "It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives". "I lost a lot of weight in that first week that I have not been able to put back on", Fiona Lowenstein, the patient, said. However, Germany is not testing at the same rates as South Korea and the data may be skewed.

"Anosmia, in particular, has been seen in patients ultimately testing positive for the coronavirus with no other symptoms", the statement continues.

"I think these patients may be some of the hitherto hidden carriers that have facilitated the rapid spread of Covid-19", the statement said, adding that "Unfortunately, these patients do not meet current criteria for testing or self isolation". There is also evidence of the virus mutation and the change in its clinical manifestations, infectivity and aggressiveness, which could mean changes in infected European patients compared to those studied in Wuhan.

They're relatively low risk and could be followed for a month or two even without being formally examined by a doctor in person.

Available for iOS and Android, the app asks you for some basic information like age and postcode, and also whether you have any existing medical conditions like diabetes and asthma.

As coronavirus continues to dominate the headlines, now United Kingdom researchers have launched a new app to help track the spread of Covid-19.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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