Smell and Taste Loss Linked to Coronavirus in New UCSD Health Study

Research conducted at UC San Diego Health says patients with loss of smell and taste were 10 times more likely to have COVID-19 than another virus

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So far, the loss of smell and taste has only anecdotally been linked to COVID-19 but a new study conducted by researchers at UC San Diego Health shows the first correlation between sensory loss and the disease.

“We found that people who have smell and taste loss were 10-times more likely to have coronavirus,” said Dr. Carol Yan, MD, an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon at UC San Diego Health.

The study, published last week in the medical journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, supports the need to be aware of smell and taste loss as early signs of COVID-19, according to researchers. The conclusions was based on patients who were not hospitalized for the virus.

Fever still remains the first sign of the COVID-19 infection but fatigue and loss of smell and taste often followed as initial symptoms. Dr. Yan says the reported loss of smell and taste was typically profound but will eventually return.

“In the majority of people, within two to three weeks, they were starting to see improvement and that’s really reassuring for all of those people who have smell and taste loss,” said Dr. Yang.

Ken Ramirez, a Rancho Penasquitos resident, is recovering from the coronavirus. He says his personal experience supports the findings of the research.

“It’s dead on. It’s what I experienced. I had lost all sense of smell and taste,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez says the information is useful for people experiencing similar symptoms.

“Anytime you can add anything to the mix, like sense of smell and taste are gone, 10-times more likely, everyone needs to hear that, so if it happens to them, they realize this is unique to COVID,” said Ramirez.

For the research, 1,480 patients with flu-like symptoms and concerns regarding potential COVID-19 infection underwent testing at UC San Diego Health from March 3 through March 29. Of those who participated, 102 tested positive for the virus and 1,378 tested negative.

The study included responses from 59 COVID-19-positive patients and 203 COVID-19-negative patients, according to a press release issued by UC San Diego Health. It found 68% of the 59 participants who tested positive reported a loss of smell, and 71% reported a loss of taste. Comparatively, 16% of the 203 respondents who tested negative for the disease reported a loss of smell, and 17% reported a loss of taste.

Researchers also found patients who reported sore throat more often tested negative for COVID-19.

Dr. Yan is hoping the local research will have a global impact. She’s hopeful the study will promote more research on smell and taste loss and raise awareness to the point of including sensory impairment as a standard screening measure.

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