Many of the symptoms caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are indistinguishable from seasonal illnesses like the common cold or flu: A cough, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, sore throat and etc.
Now, however, an increasing number of reports suggest that the loss of smell and taste could be a symptom of COVID-19.
According to a report by ENTUK, “There is already good evidence from South Korea, China and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia. In Germany it is reported that more than 2 in 3 confirmed cases have anosmia. In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30% of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.”
Interestingly, anosmia (loss of smell) also presents in patients that are otherwise asymptomatic—the ‘silent carriers’ that are otherwise impossible to stop from spreading the virus further due to their lack of symptoms, which makes them less likely to be advised to self-isolate.
Screening for anosmia “could potentially be used... to help identify otherwise asymptomatic patients, who could then be better instructed on self-isolation,” the ENTUK report says.
However, the ENTUK report points out that “viruses that give rise to the common cold are well known to cause post-infectious loss, and over 200 different viruses are known to cause upper
respiratory tract infections.” Speaking to TIME, ENTUK president Dr. Nirmal Kumar said that there had never before been such a frequency of cases of people reporting a loss of smell and taste.
“If anosmia was added to the current symptom criteria used to trigger quarantine, and any adult with anosmia but no other symptoms was asked to self-isolate for seven days, we might potentially be able to reduce the number of otherwise asymptomatic individuals who continue to act as vectors, not realising the need to self-isolate.” the ENTUK press release read.
ENTUK wasn’t alone. The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery has also said that there is growing evidence that anosmia and dysgeusia (loss of taste) could be significant symptoms associated with COVID-19. “We propose that these symptoms be added to the list of screening tools for the possible COVID-19 infection … and warrant serious consideration for self-isolation and testing of these individuals,” they said in a statement.
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