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Infectious Diseases

Updated 09 June 2020

Loss of smell, taste - researchers think these symptoms may help better screen for Covid-19

Researchers have called for the symptoms to become more prominent in diagnosing those infected with the coronavirus.

  • Researchers say that the loss of smell and taste might better help screen Covid-19 positive people
  • Currently, fever and a new, persistent cough are the two main indicators around the world for testing positive for coronavirus
  • The statistics were sourced from an app that crowdsourced its data from 3.7 million people in the US and UK 

We've all been seeing temperature sensors at stores, schools and workplaces, but soon we might be doing a smell test as well. 

Last month, researchers and doctors started reporting that patients infected with Covid-19 are experiencing a loss of smell and taste – called anosmia and ageusia respectively – without having a runny nose, especially in patients with milder or no symptoms. 

Now researchers from King’s College London have asked for this specific symptom to be used more effectively in the screening process for Covid-19. 

According to a letter published in The Lancet, they believe it might be an even better indicator of the disease than the more commonly known fever and persistent cough.

'Smell the difference' screening tests

The UK’s National Health Service has added the symptom to their list for qualifying for a test.

Professor Tim Spector, who heads the group, says that a loss of smell and taste could help trace around 16% of cases where other symptoms aren’t present.

He also notes that this symptom lasts around five days on average, whereas fever only lasts two days. According to another study, it also helps doctors determine how far along patients are in the disease, as it occurs so early on in the infection. 

These findings were bolstered by a crowdsourcing app developed together with Massachusetts General Hospital that tracked symptoms from 3.7 million users in the US and UK, reports the Harvard Gazette.

In 18 000 participants that tested positive, 65% reported anosmia and ageusia. Other popular symptoms also included fatigue and loss of appetite. 

Spector suggests that "smell the difference" screening tests could be used in workplaces to detect infected people with few other symptoms.

Another suggestion is that people who lose their sense of smell and taste should self-isolate immediately for seven days or until they can get a test.

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