Experts aren't sure how common it is, or at what point in the progression of the disease a patient loses the ability to smell.
"With the pandemic now going on, if you are young or old and have an unexplained smell loss come on quite quickly, even in the setting of minimal respiratory symptoms, you should be highly suspicious that you might have acquired infection with coronavirus or another respiratory virus", said Richard Harvey, vice president of the Australia and New Zealand Rhinologic Society. Holbrook said he started hearing about the possible tie between anosmia and coronavirus in case reports from clinicians in Europe about a week ago. The conditions, which are called anosmia for a lack of smell and dysgeusia, for a lack of taste, have been found in patients who tested positive but have displayed no other signs of Covid-19 symptoms.
Hopkins and Nirmal Kumar, the president of ENT UK, a professional membership body for ear, nose and throat doctors in Britain, have urged health care workers to use personal protective equipment when dealing with any patients who have lost their senses of smell and/or taste.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there are just over 8,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom and 423 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine real-time map.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists symptoms of the new coronavirus as fever, cough and shortness of breath, and that there's now no treatment or vaccine. Difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion, and bluish lips or face are listed as emergency symptoms for which people should seek immediate care. Secondary symptoms to watch out for are shortness of breath, body aches and a sore throat. However, the latest data allows us to verify that patients with COVID-19 have symptoms related to our specialty, "they affirm from the Delegate Commission of the SEORL-CCC". There is also evidence of the virus mutation and the change in its clinical manifestations, infectivity and aggressiveness, which could mean changes in infected European patients compared to those studied in Wuhan.
"I think these patients may be some of the hitherto hidden carriers that have facilitated the rapid spread of Covid-19", it said. "If someone says yes, it would definitely make me more suspicious that they need further work-up".
"This week, I saw nine patients that lost their sense of smell, which is unheard of in my practice", Hopkins said. In a previous study, human coronaviruses were identified in the nasal secretions of one of the 24 anosmia patients studied.
Thomas Hummel, an ear, nose and throat expert at the University of Dresden in Germany, said Monday he wasn't surprised by the reported link between COVID-19 and anosmia. "Since then, I've had colleagues from around the world saying: 'That's exactly what we're seeing.' They've been trying [to raise awareness], but it hasn't been picked up".
"But anything that gives us a heads-up into who needs to be isolated or tested, that might be a good screening tool", Holbrook said.
Recent research reported by Health24 has shown that mild or asymptomatic people who were unaware that they carried the Covid-19 virus contributed to most of the spread.