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Further Insights into Taste and Smell Related to COVID-19

A telephone survey confirms people are dealing with these issues and suggests it may be an early bellwether to providers and patients alike.

Reports has surfaced that some people with coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) have been experiencing issues with their senses of taste and smell, and a new survey confirms this ongoing problem.

An Italian survey was conducted by a team of investigators led by Giuseppe Mercante, MD, Otorhinolaryngology Unit, Humanitas Clinical and Research Center‐IRCCS, Milan. The team’s goal was to detect the presence of sinonasal manifestations preceding COVID-19 diagnosis.

The survey used 204 patients, with 55% of them having a reduction in their sense of taste and nearly 42% had a reduction in their sense of smell. However, a severe nasal obstruction was uncommon with only 7.8% from the two groups overall experiencing it.

The findings were reported in JAMA.

“The findings of this telephone survey study suggest that reduction of taste and/or smell may be a frequent and early symptom of COVID-19,” Mercante and the team wrote.

This study was a retrospective telephone survey with COVID-19 patients diagnosed with the virus from March 5 to March 23. Participants were hospitalized or discharged from a single center.

Many of the patients suffered from a severe reduction in taste and smell with 39.7% suffering from the former and 35.3% suffering from the latter. However, only 14.8% with the severe taste reduction and 16.7% of those with a severe smell reduction had a severe nasal obstruction.

Interestingly, the reduction of the two senses was seen more in women than men, (odds ratios, 3.16 [95% CI, 1.76-5.67] vs 2.58 [95% CI, 1.43-4.65]), and in middle-aged patients as opposed to younger patients (effect sizes, 0.50 [95% CI, 0.21-0.78] vs 0.85 [95% CI, 0.55-1.15]).

The investigators reported no significant association between smoking and a reduction in the two senses.

Only 12 patients (14.8%) with severe taste reduction and 12 patients (16.7%) with severe smell reduction reported severe nasal obstruction.

Contagion® has recently reported on the sense of smell issues related to COVID-19, which can be found here.

The survey’s investigators suggest primary care providers might play a role in detecting these sense disfunctions as possible early signs of COVID-19.

“The general practitioner may play a pivotal role in identifying potential COVID-19 in patients at an early stage if taste and/or smell alterations manifest and in suggesting quarantine before confirmation or exclusion of the diagnosis,” the team wrote.