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This Early Virus Sign Now Has Science Backing It Up

Loss of taste, smell were documented anecdotally for COVID-19, but now there's research
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2020 10:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – Because up to half of COVID-19 patients may be asymptomatic or show very mild symptoms, it's important to be able to identify early, subtle signs of the disease. A new study published in the International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology journal lends support to what's till now been anecdotal documentation on a somewhat odd coronavirus signal: the loss of one's sense of taste and smell. UC San Diego scientists say their research has turned up the first empirical findings that "strongly" link such sensory loss with COVID-19, and that pinpointing people who show such a manifestation can be a big help in fighting the infectious disease. Study co-author Carol Yan says in a release that although fever remains the most common first sign of the coronavirus, "if you have smell and taste loss, you are more than 10 times more likely to have COVID-19 infection than other causes of infection."

Yan's team examined 59 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 203 who showed flu-like symptoms but tested negative. Loss of smell was found in 68% of the coronavirus patients, while 71% of that same group experienced taste loss. The non-COVID-19 patients showed 16% and 17% for those sensory impairments, respectively. Although study patients who experienced sensory loss typically found those symptoms to be profound, an encouraging sign is that such loss seems to be temporary and short-lived. "In the majority of people, within two to three weeks, they were starting to see improvement," Yan says, per NBC San Diego. Her team also found that non-COVID-19 patients reported sore throats more often than those with the coronavirus. The researchers hope their findings "may help facilitate screening and early isolation of [COVID-19] cases," the study notes. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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