Loss of smell and taste are symptoms of COVID-19, study finds

According to a new study published in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, sudden loss of smell and/or taste really does appear to be an early sign of COVID-19, especially in those with mild cases.

In over a thousand patients with undiagnosed flu-like symptoms, experts found those with a loss of smell and taste had a 10-fold greater chance of testing positive for COVID-19.

A total of 1,480 patients with influenza‐like symptoms underwent COVID‐19 testing between March 3 through 29, 2020. The study captured 59 of 102 (58%) COVID‐19‐positive patients and 203 of 1,378 (15%) COVID‐19‐negative patients. Smell and taste loss were reported in 68% (40/59) and 71% (42/59) of COVID‐19‐positive subjects, respectively, compared to 16% (33/203) and 17% (35/203) of COVID‐19‐negative patients.

Smell and taste impairment (anosmia and ageusia, respectively), were independently and strongly associated with COVID‐19‐positivity, whereas, sore throat was associated with COVID‐19‐negativity. Of patients who reported COVID‐19‐associated loss of smell, 74% (28/38) reported resolution of anosmia with clinical resolution of illness. Besides, of those who reported loss of smell and taste, the loss was typically profound, not mild.

Since rapid spread of the SARS‐CoV‐2 virus and concern for viral transmission by ambulatory patients with minimal to no symptoms underline the importance of identifying early or subclinical symptoms of COVID‐19 infection. In this way, this study supports the need to be aware of smell and taste loss as early signs of COVID-19. Understanding the timing and association of smell/taste loss in COVID‐19 may help facilitate screening and early isolation of cases.

Finally, in an effort to decrease risk of virus transmission, UC San Diego Health ―the institution where the study was performed and shown the first empirical findings that strongly associate sensory loss with COVID-19―, now includes loss of smell and taste as a screening requirement for visitors and staff, as well as a marker for testing patients who may be positive for the virus.

Link to the paper: https://doi.org/10.1002/alr.22579

Editorial Disclaimer: information published during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic may be updated frequently to reflect the dynamic nature of current understanding.

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