How to (not) sniff out COVID-19

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It is commonly known that COVID-19 patients experience symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath shortly after being infected. However, it is also important to recognize more subtle symptoms in people who may be at risk of transmitting the disease within their community.

In a study recently published in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, researchers from University of California San Diego Health (UC; CA, USA) have reported a strong link between sensory loss and COVID-19.

“Based on our study, if you have smell and taste loss, you are more than 10 times more likely to have COVID-19 infection than other causes of infection. The most common first sign of a COVID-19 infection remains fever, but fatigue and loss of smell and taste follow as other very common initial symptoms,” commented Carol Yan (UC San Diego Health), an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon. “We know COVID-19 is an extremely contagious virus. This study supports the need to be aware of smell and taste loss as early signs of COVID-19.”

During the study, the team evaluated the symptoms of 59 COVID-19 positive patients. Significantly, smell and taste loss were reported in 68% and 71% of these patients, respectively.

“Our study not only showed that the high incidence of smell and taste is specific to COVID-19 infection, but we fortunately also found that for the majority of people sensory recovery was generally rapid,” explained Yan. “Among the Covid-19 patients with smell loss, more than 70 percent had reported improvement of smell at the time of survey and of those who hadn’t reported improvement, many had only been diagnosed recently.”

Following on from this, UC San Diego Health now screen for loss of smell and taste in all visitors and staff, and additionally include this as a marker for testing patients who may be positive for the virus.

“It is our hope that with these findings other institutions will follow suit and not only list smell and taste loss as a symptom of COVID-19, but use it as a screening measure for the virus across the world,” Yan concluded.

Sources: Yan CH, Faraji F, Prajapati DP et al. Association of chemosensory dysfunction and Covid‐19 in patients presenting with influenza‐like symptoms.  Int. Forum Allergy Rhinol. Online ahead of print; https://doi.org/10.1002/alr.22579 (2020); https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/loss-of-smell-and-taste-validated-as-covid-19-symptoms-in-patients-with-high-recovery-rate

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