UK Study Suggests Loss of Smell, Taste May Be Reliable Indicator of COVID-19 Infection

UK Study Suggests Loss of Smell, Taste May Be Reliable Indicator of COVID-19 Infection
A woman smelling lavender flowers. (Richárd Ecsedi/Unsplash)
Paula Liu
A recent study published in the journal Public Library of Science (PLOS) Medicine found that the loss of smell or taste is a reliable indicator of a CCP virus infection.

The study, led by University College London professor Rachel Batterham, recruited 590 participants in the United Kingdom from April 23 to May 14 who reported having a loss of taste or smell in the month prior.

According to the data, 78 percent of the people who reported having a sudden loss of smell or taste (or both) during the pandemic had antibodies for COVID-19. Furthermore, 40 percent of these individuals were asymptomatic.

"In our study cohort, loss of smell was more prevalent in participants with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies compared with those without antibodies ... whereas taste loss was equally prevalent,” the study read.

The participants enrolled through a web-based platform and answered questions regarding their loss of smell or taste or both, as well as other questions regarding COVID-19-related symptoms.

Out of the 590 participants, 567 of them had a telemedicine consultation that confirmed their loss of smell and or taste by health care professionals and had been further administered a test for COVID-19 antibody detection.

Further investigation indicated that 77.6 percent of the 567 participants that had a loss of smell and or taste had CCP virus antibodies. And out of all 77.6 percent (440 individuals) of those who had the antibodies, 39.8 percent had not shown COVID-19 symptoms.

The deprivation of scent and taste were each broken up into three sections for result recording: complete loss, partial loss, and no loss. For loss of smell, out of 440 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, 411 (93.4 percent) had reported having some form of loss of smell. This was broken down into complete loss, which accounted for 307 (69.8 percent) of the 440 individuals, and partial loss, which account for 104 (23.6 percent) of the 440 individuals.

Similarly, in the loss of taste, 397 out of 440 individuals reported having some form of loss of taste, with 209 reporting complete loss of taste and 188 reporting partial loss of taste.

“Our research suggests a key public health message should be: people who notice a loss in their ability to smell everyday household odors such as garlic, onions, coffee, and perfumes should self-isolate and seek a coronavirus PCR swab test,” said Batterham in a statement on Oct. 1.

She further said that while people who experience a sudden loss of smell and or taste are encouraged to treat it as a sign of COVID-19 infection and further self-isolate or seek testing, the majority of the other countries around the globe have yet to recognize this as a symptom of the virus, and most focus on symptoms such as fevers or respiratory issues.

“Our findings show that loss of smell and taste is a highly reliable indicator that someone is likely to have COVID-19 and if we are to reduce the spread of this pandemic, it should now be considered by governments globally as a criterion for self-isolation, testing, and contact tracing,” Batterham stated.

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