COVID-19: A New Symptom?

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th and, in the weeks since, the outbreak has become exponentially more severe. Non-essential businesses have shut their doors, citizens are adhering to stay-at-home orders, and the United States recently surpassed China as the country with the most COVID-19 deaths.

Materials from WHO and other organizations identify coughing, shortness of breath, and fever as the most common symptoms of the virus. New evidence suggests, however, that there may be another symptom. Infected individuals from several countries have reported a reduced sense of smell and taste.

Are anosmia and hyposmia symptoms of COVID-19?
Is anosmia a symptom of COVID-19? Scientists in the UK think so.

Anosmia and Hyposmia

Anosmia refers to a total loss of one’s sense of smell. Hyposmia refers to a partial loss. They both go hand-in-hand with a reduced sense of taste (Ageusia). More than 10% of Americans over 40 have a significantly impaired sense of smell, with seniors representing the majority.

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Anosmia and hyposmia are common symptoms of respiratory infections like the common cold. Recently, they’ve emerged as a potential symptom of COVID-19 as well. Health officials in China, Italy, South Korea, France, Germany, and the UK have reported a “significant number” of COVID-19 patients experiencing this symptom. For some, it is the only indication of infection.

This week, a research team in the UK published a preliminary study on the association between COVID-19 and anosmia/hyposmia. Lead investigator Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, confirmed that 12% of the study’s 1.5 million participants reported this symptom. He advises anyone experiencing anosmia or hyposmia — even without other symptoms — to enter self-isolation.

The study’s authors argue that WHO should add anosmia and hyposmia to its list of recognized COVID-19 symptoms. While the study was not peer reviewed, other experts have already offered their comments. Jane Parker, an associate professor at the University of Reading, remarked, “This paper shows good preliminary (non-peer-reviewed) evidence that loss of smell and taste is likely to be a symptom of COVID-19, but its role as an early warning sign has not been confirmed.

Staying Safe and Healthy

This outbreak remains a developing story. Seniors are advised to consult credible sources, follow the appropriate guidelines, and remain calm. All Americans have a vital role to play in “flattening the curve” and keeping our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. Most importantly, it is imperative that anyone experiencing symptoms self-quarantine and seek the appropriate treatment.