Loss of smell may be a sign of COVID-19 infection: doctors’ groups

TORONTO — Could a sudden inability to smell be a sign of COVID-19 infection?

A group of British doctors think so, and they want the loss of smell to be added to governments’ lists of symptoms that trigger quarantines.

In a statement released on Friday, the British Association of Otorhinolaryngology and British Rhinological Society said that anosmia and hyposmia – two conditions related to the loss of ability to detect odours – have been detected in many COVID-19 patients around the world.

Dr. Miryam Carecchio, an Italian neurologist, is one of those patients. She told CTV News that she first started to feel pain in late February. She took one day off work, and then returned because she was feeling better.

“After a few days, I completely lost [my] sense of smell and taste,” she said March 9.

Soon after, Carecchio tested positive for COVID-19 and was ordered into quarantine – all without ever showing signs of fever, dry cough or any of the other common COVID-19 symptoms,

According to the British doctors, two-thirds of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Germany have reported losing their ability to smell. In South Korea, where tests were carried out even on those showing no signs of illness, loss of smell was reportedly found in 30 per cent of cases where patients tested positive but only showed mild symptoms.

Dr. Claire Hopkins, the president of the British Rhinological Society, said in the statement that she saw four patients this week who had lost their sense of smell but otherwise showed no symptoms of the virus. Under normal circumstances, she might see one patient a month in this condition.

While this evidence is not yet backed by peer-reviewed studies, the doctors suggest it points to a need to direct anyone who loses their sense of smell to self-isolate.

“If anosmia was added to the current symptom criteria used to trigger quarantine, and any adult with anosmia but no other symptoms was asked to self-isolate for seven days, we might potentially be able to reduce the number of otherwise asymptomatic individuals who continue to act as vectors,” they said.

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