Loss of smell may be the first symptom of coronavirus infection

Laverne Higgins
March 26, 2020

A United Kingdom doctor group, the British Rhinological Society, has warned that a loss of smell or taste could be a symptom of the CCP virus, with a USA doctors group calling for the symptom to be added to a "list of screening tools" for the virus.

"Anything we can do to delay transmission is absolutely vital", Claire Hopkins, the president of the British Rhinological Society, told AFP. Speaking to STATNews, rhinologist Eric Holbrook says this new observation should not be used as a single screening factor, but rather it can be incorporated into broader considerations when evaluating potentially infected patients.

Importantly, these reports remain unverified by peer-reviewed research, but speaking to the Science Media Centre, Carl Philpott, a professor of rhinology & olfactology at the University of East Anglia, said, "Coronaviruses have previously been associated with what we refer to as post-viral olfactory loss - this is smell loss that persists after a cold". The report came from UK ENT specialists who work on diseases of the ear, nose, and throat (ENT). In their statement, Hopkins and Kumar highlighted four patients they had seen, all under 40, who had reported sudden anosmia in the last week.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology says anosmia, in particular, has been seen in patients who ultimately test positive for the virus with no other symptoms.

In a small percentage of cases, she said, those with the virus have diarrhea, but that usually is in conjunction with one or more of the prominent symptoms, she said. He also said it's hard 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. Encourage them to self-isolate for at least seven days. "Viruses that give rise to the common cold are well known to cause post-infectious loss, and over 200 different viruses are known to cause upper respiratory tract infections". But Hopkins raised concern at the number of COVID-19 patients who were otherwise asymptomatic.

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It is important for people experiencing these symptoms to self-isolate themselves. "If someone says yes, it would definitely make me more suspicious that they need further work-up". If the patient undergoing the procedure sneezes or coughs, there is a high risk of viral spread to the physician performing the procedure.

In addition, there have been a rapidly growing number of reports of a significant increase in the number of patients presenting with anosmia in the absence of other symptoms - this has been widely shared on medical discussion boards by surgeons from all regions managing a high incidence of cases. Experts urged that anosmia should be added to the list of symptoms found in screening tools for possible COVID-19.

That's what happened to a friend of mine who, after a scary ten days and a brief hospital visit, seems to be recovering from Covid-19.

Doctors in countries where COVID-19 has spread have reported that some people whose only apparent symptom is a loss of smell may not have been tested for the virus and could unwittingly be spreading it.

Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz center whose positive novel coronavirus test prompted the National Basketball Association to shut down entirely, said Sunday that he, too, had lost his sense of smell. They cite reports from South Korea, China and Italy. 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.

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