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The early coronavirus infection warning sign you should look out for

Published Mar 23rd, 2020 5:09PM EDT
coronavirus symptoms
Image: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • Coronavirus infection may lead to loss of smell or taste shortly after a person is infected, according to doctors. 
  • Differentiating early symptoms of COVID-19 from those of the flu or other common respiratory illnesses is an important tool for doctors to help identify the most likely cases of coronavirus infection. 
  • It’s unclear exactly why the virus produces these early symptoms, but they could prove to be useful in early screening of possible coronavirus cases. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Symptoms of COVID-19 infection can be mild and nonspecific, including things like sore throat, dry cough, and shortness of breath. These are symptoms that can come with many different types of respiratory illnesses and are not necessarily indicators of a specific type of infection. However, new reports from doctors across the United States reveal a somewhat unique symptom that appears to be popping up with increasing regularity in confirmed coronavirus cases: A loss of smell.

Anosmia, which is the technical term for a loss of the sense of smell, is being reported in many patients who ultimately test positive for COVID-19 later on. To a lesser extent, changes to the sense of taste have also been reported in coronavirus patients.

It’s not immediately clear why these symptoms are popping up with regularity in COVID-19 patients, but the fact that it is could prove to be beneficial for doctors and their patients. Knowing an early warning sign that isn’t typically present in patients with the common cold or flu may be an important differentiator for COVID-19.

Doctors with the American Academy of Otolaryngology released the following statement regarding the findings:

Anecdotal evidence is rapidly accumulating from sites around the world that anosmia and dysgeusia 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.  Anosmia, hyposmia, and dysgeusia in the absence of other respiratory disease such as allergic rhinitis, acute rhinosinusitis, or chronic rhinosinusitis should alert physicians to the possibility of COVID-19 infection and warrant serious consideration for self-isolation and testing of these individuals.

These unique early symptoms have been observed in a number of COVID-19 cases in South Korea, China, and Europe.

“There is already good evidence from South Korea, China, and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia,” a statement from ENTUK reads. “In Germany it is reported that more than 2 in 3 confirmed cases have anosmia. In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30% of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.”

Going forward, the doctors argue that the loss of smell and/or taste should be added to early screening efforts in the hopes of more easily identifying positive cases at an early stage.