A statement released by two top ENTs in the UK suggests that a loss of sense of smell, or anosmia, is one of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Growing anecdotal evidence from around the world – including reports from Italy, Iran, Germany and the US – suggests that a sizable proportion of confirmed cases present with this symptom. In mild cases, where classical symptoms are not present, anosmia may be considered as evidence to get tested. Professors Claire Hopkins and Nirmal Kumar, who released the statement on Friday, said that post-viral anosmia is commonly reported after infection from several viruses, so these findings are not especially surprising.
Since the evidence is mostly anecdotal and the studies small, more research is needed to corroborate these observations. However, given WHO’s repeated appeals to ‘test, test, and test’, this diagnostic criteria should be taken seriously since it has been seen in those not exhibiting any other symptoms. Those who believe they are healthy may unwittingly spread the infection and strain the already stretched global health infrastructure.
What were the details of the statement?
Preliminary studies in China have shown that ENTs are a high-risk group – many were infected and killed as the virus ravaged Wuhan. Since the doctors work on the nasal cavities of their patients, there is a higher likelihood of the virus being contracted in large doses and leading to the infection. Just as health officials have urged hospitals and patients to delay non-emergency and elective treatments, ENTs are also recommended to hold back on non-essential procedures.
A study in South Korea that consisted of 2,000 patients with mild symptoms showed that 30% had anosmia of varying degrees. The statement also said that more than 2 in 3 confirmed cases in Germany presented with the symptom, indicating that it is, in fact, quite widespread.
It is not yet known if the presence of the symptoms translates to a more or less lethal form of the infection. Some patients have gone to make a recovery whereas the situation has worsened in other cases.
What can be taken from all this?
Those exhibiting mild symptoms may be unaware that they are carriers and can spread the disease since they haven’t taken strict precautions or maintained social distance. Since evidence suggests that anosmia is present even in milder cases, the statement recommends self-isolation for a week should you notice an impairment in your sense of smell. More ambitiously, the ENTs hope that anosmia becomes a part of diagnostic criteria and those presenting it should be tested as well. However, barring a few countries such as South Korea, testing has been an issue, so adding another symptom to the list will be difficult. For now, it is best to follow guidelines outlined by WHO: wash hands frequently, practice social distancing and contact a medical professional if you begin to notice any symptoms.
For more tips, read our article on Coronavirus.
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Updated Date: Mar 23, 2020 16:53:58 IST