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The list of symptoms associated with the onset of COVID-19, the dangerous respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has affected more than 7.9 million people globally and killed over 433,000 people has added a few more to it.

According to new research on the global pandemic and the way it infects the human body, loss of sense of taste and smell have also been reported among patients, with both these senses reported to diminish by the third day of infection after coming in contact with the novel coronavirus now known as SARS-CoV-2.

While the addition of more symptoms may not be good news, the scientific community considers the discovery of new signs to determine the onset of COVID-19 as a breakthrough, as it helps them to devise treatment strategies better.

The two specific symptoms with regards to the loss of sense of smell and taste were validated as COVID-19 symptoms as far back as in April, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, as well as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of India, added them to the list only earlier this month.

  1. New symptoms of COVID-19
  2. Loss of smell and taste: anosmia and ageusia

The symptoms added to the list and recognized by the CDC are as follows:

  • Loss of sense of smell and taste
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches

Earlier, fever, difficulty breathing and cough were recognized as symptoms of COVID-19.

Multiple studies have now studied the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus impairing several bodily functions that leads to mild to severe symptoms of COVID-19, and increases the chances of fatality in patients already living with underlying conditions such as respiratory problems, diabetes or heart disease.

The loss of sense of smell, medically known as anosmia, is a symptom that is used to identify or diagnose several different conditions ranging from the common cold to blocked sinuses or sinusitis, and other respiratory illnesses or even complex neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease as well.

Based on an early study into this factor which was published in the International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology in April, researchers at the UC San Diego Health studied 1,480 patients with flu-like symptoms that have been identified as the first signs of COVID-19, and found 102 out of the total patients had tested positive for the virus.

The study observed that 59 out of the 102 COVID-19 positive patients reported smell and taste loss, making it a 68% and 71% rate of the symptoms respectively. From 203 out of the remaining 1,378 patients who tested negative, there was a low 16% and 17% presence of the symptoms. The study also went on to add that "smell and taste impairment were independently and strongly associated with COVID‐19 positivity".

Another study done in Europe among patients with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 found as many as 86% of the people reporting a reduced sense of smell and a similarly high percentage of people also experienced a reduction in their sense of taste, also known as ageusia. According to experts, problems with the sense of smell have been more evident among younger patients and women.

Some doctors also perceive the loss of these senses could be intertwined, as they are even during the onset of a common cold, but they think the loss of sense of taste could also be a direct result due to the new coronavirus infection.

Scientific journal Nature conducted a large survey using an app-based symptom tracker in the United Kingdom and the United States, two of the worst-hit countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of the UK cohort of 6,452 people who had tested positive for COVID-19, almost 65% of the patients reported a loss of smell and taste as symptoms. Another 20% of the participants of the study who returned negative tests for COVID-19 also reported a loss of smell and taste.

Despite featuring prominently in several studies, the World Health Organization has listed loss of sense of smell and taste among the less common symptoms of COVID-19.

The emergence of the loss of olfactory senses, however, has thrown light on a way to detect COVID-19 earlier in patients as anosmia and ageusia have been known to set in in the first three days of someone being infected with the virus.

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References

  1. Yan CH et al. Association of chemosensory dysfunction and COVID‐19 in patients presenting with influenza‐like symptoms. International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology. 2020 Apr; PMID: 32279441.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Symptoms of Coronavirus.
  3. Hopkins C et al. Early recovery following new onset anosmia during the COVID-19 pandemic – an observational cohort study. Journal of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery. 2020 May; 49: 26.
  4. Menni C et al. Real-time tracking of self-reported symptoms to predict potential COVID-19. Nature Medicine. 2020 May; PMID: 32393804.
  5. ENT UK [Internet]. London, United Kingdom. Loss of sense of smell as marker of COVID-19 infection.
  6. Vaira LA et al. Anosmia and Ageusia: Common Findings in COVID-19 Patients. The Laryngoscope. 2020 Apr; 130:1787–1787.
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