One of the main driving factors behind COVID-19’s rapid spread throughout the world is the number of people unknowingly carrying the virus. A large portion of those who contract COVID-19 don’t show any obvious flu symptoms and are thus oblivious to their contagiousness. Now, a team of the top rhinologists in the UK has uncovered another symptom that could be an indicator of COVID-19: sudden loss of smell or taste.
Look, you should already be practicing physical distancing and limiting your contact with others, but if you’ve noticed some irregularities with your sense of smell or taste lately, it’s time for a strict self-quarantine.
There is already significant clinical evidence that many confirmed COVID-19 patients in Italy, China, and South Korea have lost their sense of smell or taste. Furthermore, more than two in three confirmed German cases include a loss of smell.
South Korea has been enjoying some positive press for its proactive approach to the virus and extensive testing response. So if there is a single nation to examine in order to get an accurate picture of the virus’ effects, it’s South Korea.
“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,” writes Professor Claire Hopkins, President of the British Rhinological Society and a Professor of Rhinology, King’s College London, in an ENT UK press release.
Besides just these statistics, ENT UK reports an increasing number of patients all over the world describing a loss of smell as their only COVID-19 symptom. Iran, the United States, France, and Northern Italy have all seen more and more patients in such a situation.
Now that this characteristic has been recognized, it could represent a potential game-changer in terms of COVID-19 detection. Many healthy, young adults won’t develop flu symptoms in the event of a COVID-19 infection, but a sudden loss of smell can serve as another much-needed warning sign.
“In young patients, they do not have any significant symptoms such as cough and fever, but they may have just the loss of sense of smell and taste, which suggests that these viruses are lodging in the nose,” ENT UK president professor Nirmal Kumar told Sky News.
Professor Hopkins herself says that she has seen four patients under the age of 40 just this week that complained of losing their sense of smell. Besides those nose problems, however, the patients were completely asymptomatic.
As of right now, a loss of taste or smell isn’t enough to warrant testing or mandatory self-quarantine. Professor Hopkins believes that should change.
“There is potential that if any adult with anosmia (loss of smell) but no other symptoms were asked to self-isolate for seven days, in addition to the current symptom criteria used to trigger quarantine, we might be able to reduce the number of otherwise asymptomatic individuals who continue to act as vectors, not realizing the need to self-isolate,” she writes.
Widespread recognition of these symptoms can also help protect medical professionals and healthcare workers as well. If a patient mentions a loss of smell or taste, nearby personnel should immediately put on personal protective equipment.
These symptoms actually shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, loss of smell and taste is quite common in viral infections. Older known coronaviruses (SARS, MERS) are estimated to account for 10-15% of hearing or taste loss incidents.
In conclusion, the researchers suggest that anyone experiencing a loss of taste or smell self-isolate themselves completely for at least seven days.