On Friday, British ear, nose and throat doctors warned adults whose sense of taste and smell have deteriorated to isolate themselves for seven days, even if they are not experiencing other coronavirus symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, coughing or difficulty breathing.
“We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Prof. Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, wrote in an email obtained by the New York Times. “It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”
According to the British physicians, reports from other countries reveal that many coronavirus patients experienced anosmia. In South Korea, for example, 30% of a group of 2,000 patients who tested positive for the coronavirus said that anosmia was their main symptom. These patients, however, had mild coronavirus cases.
Hopkins and Nirmal Kumar, the president of ENT UK, a professional membership body for ear, nose and throat doctors in Britain, have urged health care workers to use personal protective equipment when dealing with any patients who have lost their senses of smell and/or taste. In addition, they recommend that doctors not perform any nonessential sinus endoscopy procedures, which involve looking at the nasal and sinus passages with an endoscope, because the virus replicates in the nose and throat. Such procedures may induce patients to sneeze or cough, which would greatly expose doctors to the virus.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology on Sunday also revealed on its website that there is growing anecdotal evidence suggesting that loss or weakening of taste and smell are symptoms associated with COVID-19.
“Anecdotal evidence is rapidly accumulating from sites around the world that anosmia and dysgeusia [impaired sense of taste] are significant symptoms associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Anosmia, in particular, has been seen in patients ultimately testing positive for the coronavirus with no other symptoms. We propose that these symptoms be added to the list of screening tools for possible COVID-19 infection,” the Sunday statement reads.
“There is evolving evidence that otolaryngologists are among the highest risk group when performing upper airway surgeries and examinations,” a Friday notice on the academy’s website also reads. “A high rate of transmission of COVID-19 to otolaryngologists has been reported from China, Italy and Iran, many resulting in death.”
Some doctors in Italy have also said that the loss of taste and smell indicates that someone is likely carrying the virus and infecting others.
“Almost everybody who is hospitalized has this same story,” Dr. Marco Metra, chief of the cardiology department at a main hospital in Brescia, told the New York Times. “You ask about the patient’s wife or husband. And the patient says, ‘My wife has just lost her smell and taste but otherwise she is well.’ So she is likely infected, and she is spreading it with a very mild form.”
In Germany, Hendrik Streeck, a virologist at the University of Bonn, interviewed more than 100 coronavirus patients. He found that at least two-thirds of them experienced loss of smell and taste for several days, and that they had mild cases of the infection.
The latest data from Johns Hopkins University reveals that more than 367,000 people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus so far, and it has resulted in the deaths of more than 16,000 people. The majority of the deaths have occured in China, Italy and Spain.