In the wake of the global Coronavirus outbreak, medical experts citing reports from several countries noted that a loss of smell or taste might be an early sign of the infection. It might even serve as a useful screening tool, they say. The idea of a virus infection reducing the sense of smell is not new. The respiratory viral infection is a common cause of loss of smell because inflammation can interfere with airflow and the ability to detect odors. The sense of smell usually returns when the infection resolves, but in a small percentage of cases, smell loss can persist after other symptoms disappear. In some cases, it is permanent.
Experts have found "good evidence" from South Korea, China and Italy for loss or impairment of smell in infected people says a joint statement from the presidents of the British Rhinological Society and of ENT UK, a British group that represents ear, nose and throat doctors. In South Korea, some 30% of people who tested positive for the virus have cited the loss of smell as their major complaint is otherwise mild cases, they wrote. So that might be useful as a way to spot infected people without other symptoms — fever, coughing and shortness of breath — of the new coronavirus, they wrote.
In a similar proposition, an American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery noted “rapidly accumulating” anecdotal evidence from around the world that the pandemic virus can cause not only loss of smell but also a diminished sense of taste. So the appearance of those symptoms in people without another explanation should alert doctors to the possibility of a COVID-19 infection, the group said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, an outbreak expert at the World Health Organization, told reporters Monday that the U.N. health agency is looking into the question of whether the loss of smell or taste is a defining feature of the disease. Dr. Eric Holbrook, an expert on nasal and sinus disease at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear hospital in Boston, said the reports have been a hot topic among researchers and doctors. But “we don’t have hard evidence right now” about how often smell loss occurs in people infected with the pandemic virus, he said in an interview Monday.
Holbrook said the reports he has seen suggest the sense of smell returns within a couple of weeks, but how long it lasts has yet to be firmly established. He also said it’s difficult to assess reports of a loss of taste because people with an impaired sense of smell often report a loss of flavor, which is technically different from an impairment in taste. Holbrook said he is trying to set up a study of smell in people being tested for the coronavirus at Boston-area hospitals.
The coronavirus (CoV) is a novel strain in the large family of viruses that causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to acute respiratory syndromes. Common symptoms of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) strain include respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, as per WHO. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people, according to the WHO. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
(With AP inputs)