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UCSD Researchers: Smell, Taste Loss Shown As COVID-19 Symptom In Mild Cases

A health care worker with the UNLV School of Medicine tests a patient for the...

Photo by John Locher AP

Above: A health care worker with the UNLV School of Medicine tests a patient for the coronavirus at a drive-thru testing site in Las Vegas.

As more people fall ill with COVID-19, scientists are learning more about this virus. Now, researchers at UC San Diego have published the first evidence-based research that loss of smell and taste could be among the symptoms patients experience.

The study came out April 12 in the peer-reviewed journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology.

Reported by Shalina Chatlani

People can experience loss of smell and taste with a number of conditions, like a sinus infection. While there’s been anecdotal evidence that losing your sense of smell and taste can be a sign of coronavirus, now there’s actually some preliminary statistical evidence.

“We looked at anyone who came in who had COVID-19 symptoms, these are people who had fever, cough, shortness of breath,” said UC San Diego Health head and neck surgeon Carol Yan.

“When they ended up getting tested, one group was positive, one group was negative. But really the distinguishing difference between the two groups was that the COVID-19 positive group was 10 times more likely to have smell loss than the COVID 19 negative group,” she said.

UC San Diego researchers surveyed 1,480 patients with flu-like symptoms who received COVID-19 testing from March 3 through March 29. From that group, the study included responses from 59 COVID-19-positive patients and 203 COVID-19-negative patients.

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    The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a virus that can infect animals and humans. It causes a range of respiratory illness, fever, cough and in more severe cases can cause pneumonia and even death.
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Yan said patients who were studied had mild coronavirus cases, so they were not hospitalized. Smell and taste loss were typically not their first symptoms.

“Certainly it gives us some preliminary insight and information on things to look out for. For us at our institution we’ve now started using smell and taste loss as a screening for anyone who has concerns of symptoms of COVID-19,” Yan said.

“And I really think if there’s one thing to take away from our study it’s that you should consider adding smell and taste to the screening process at other hospitals as well,” she said.

Yan said the study was relatively small, and more studies should be done to show how widespread these symptoms are among COVID-19 patients. She said the good is that the majority of patients experienced smell and taste recovery within two to four weeks of infection.

Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

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Photo of Shalina Chatlani

Shalina Chatlani
Science and Technology Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover all things science and technology — from the biotech industry in San Diego to rooftop solar energy on new homes. I'm interested in covering the human side of science and technology, like barriers to entry for people of color or gender equity issues on biotech boards.

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