New research could help doctors sniff out coronavirus infections – dpa international


Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Failing to pick up the waft of garlic, coffee or perfume could be a clearer coronavirus warning than previously thought, according to research by University College London (UCL).

The findings, published Thursday in the journal PLOS Medicine, were based on novel coronavirus antibody tests taken by 567 people whose senses of taste or smell deteriorated over the previous month.

Some 78 per cent of those tested were carrying antibodies, meaning they had likely been infected. Anosmia, or loss of sense of smell, was three times more prevalent among the group than loss of taste.

Most of those with antibodies otherwise felt only mild symptoms of Covid-19, with 40 per cent suffering neither cough nor fever – listed by the World Health Organization as among the “most common symptoms.”

The WHO ranks loss of senses of smell or taste as “less common symptoms.”

Though some health authorities acknowledge loss of sense of smell as an indicator, UCL research team leader Rachel Batterham said it “needs to be recognized globally by policy makers as a key symptom of Covid-19.” The UCL researchers contend that “over-reliance on cough and fever as the main symptoms of Covid-19 may be flawed.”

Virus testing criteria vary across jurisdictions and have been tweaked since the start of the pandemic. Some regimes still require a would-be patient to be coughing or feverish before receiving a test.

Anosmia should be given “greater consideration” in testing, case isolation and treatment, the UCL team said, recommending that anyone who suddenly cannot detect common odors should self-isolate and get tested.

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