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VERIFY: Yes, a sudden loss of smell or taste might be an indicator of COVID-19

A sudden loss of smell or taste could signal a person having COVID-19, even if they have no other symptoms.

Several articles over the past few days have recently reported that a loss of smell or taste might signal that a person has been infected with the new coronavirus.

The stories go on to recommend a person should self-isolate for a week if they suddenly lose a sense of smell or taste, even if you have no other symptoms.

Could such a symptom really be a tip-off that you have the disease?

THE QUESTION

Is COVID-19 causing a loss of smell and taste?

THE ANSWER 

Yes. In fact, specialists say it may even be an early marker.

WHAT WE FOUND

The loss of smell (anosmia/hyposmia) and taste (dysgeusia) does appear to be associated with COVID-19, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recently said. 

The global evidence, although anecdotal at this point, has accumulated rapidly enough that smell and taste should be included in COVID-19 screenings, the academy advised on its website Sunday. That’s because patients who otherwise had no symptoms ultimately tested positive for the coronavirus and may be unknowing carriers who need to self-quarantine.

According to the CDC, symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2-14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. 

There is also evidence from South Korea, China and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have a reduced sense of smell, Dr. Claire Hopkins and Dr. Nirmal Kumar said in a letter on the website of ENTUK, the professional group representing ear, nose and throat surgeons in the United Kingdom.

“In Germany, it is reported that more than two in three confirmed cases have anosmia. 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,” said Kumar, ENTUK president, and Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society and a professor of Rhinology at King’s College London.

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The loss of smell and taste is not exclusive to COVID-19, the doctors noted. Typical rhinovirus and previously known coronavirus strains can also impact the two senses. Losses or distortions of taste and smell can be caused by nasal disease, upper respiratory infections, head injury, neurological disorders, or dental problems, according to UConn Health, an academic medical and research center that's part of the University of Connecticut.

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 are a defining feature of the disease.

If you think you're having symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.

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