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This common symptom everyone’s worried about usually isn’t caused by coronavirus

Published Apr 15th, 2020 3:17PM EDT
Coronavirus Symptoms

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  • A new COVID-19 study that revealed the loss of smell and taste during is a likely symptom of the novel coronavirus infection also found evidence that says a sore throat isn’t necessarily associated with the disease.
  • Researchers at UC San Diego Health found that patients who included a sore throat among their symptoms were more likely to be COVID-19-negative.
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A new study that tried to determine whether one of the strangest novel coronavirus symptoms is statistically relevant for screening found that people who experience the loss of smell and taste are more likely to be COVID-19 positive than to have a different illness. The sensory impairment has been associated with COVID-19 in various countries, with physicians observing the symptom in many of their patients. Researchers looked at the olfactory tissue and determined that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can attach itself to specific cells just as quickly as it binds to lung cells.

The researchers from UC San Diego Health also determined that patients who recover from COVID-19 will get their senses of smell and taste back anywhere between two and four weeks following the infection. But they also made another startling discovery about one of the symptoms you might associate with COVID-19: A sore throat doesn’t always point to a COVID-19 infection.

Fever, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue are the most common COVID-19 symptoms, and the loss of smell and taste doesn’t make that list. But a sore throat does sound like a symptom that a respiratory virus would cause, and some COVID-19 patients do experience it. That said, the researchers from UC San Diego Health found that most COVID-19-positive patients they surveyed did not have a sore throat.

Smell and taste impairment were independently and strongly associated with Covid-19-positivity […] whereas, sore throat was associated with Covid-19-negativity. […]

Sore throat was associated with Covid-19-negativity (60% versus 32% in Covid-19-positive patients)

The researchers discovered that COVID-19-negative patients were four to five times more likely to report sore throat than COVID-19-positive patients. This is particularly relevant as hayfever season kicks off in many regions around the United States; a sore throat and congestion are unlikely symptoms of a novel coronavirus infection.

The study looked at 1,480 patients with flu-like symptoms that were suspected of having COVID-19. Out of those people, only 102 tested positive. The study then included responses from 59 COVID-19 patients and 203 people who suffered from other ailments. The number of respondents may seem limited, but most COVID-19 research includes limited sample sizes at this point. Unlike other studies that were not peer-reviewed, UC San Diego Health’s research has undergone full peer review and awaits final publication in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology.

Most of the COVID-19 patients in the study were people who developed a milder version of the illness, which didn’t require oxygen therapy or intubation and ventilation. Most of the patients did not require hospitalization either.

The researchers concluded that medical professionals should include questions about the loss of smell and taste in their COVID-19 screenings. The unusual symptom could help them discover and isolate patients before the test results come in. “It is our hope that with these findings other institutions will follow suit and not only list smell and taste loss as a symptom of COVID-19, but use it as a screening measure for the virus across the world,” UC San Diego Health otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon Carol Yan told UC San Diego News Center.

If you’re experiencing a sore throat as well as other symptoms that might indicate a COVID-19 infection, you should still seek medical guidance and get tested for the novel coronavirus if possible.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.