Can’t Smell? Could be COVID-19

Last Week, Dr. Rose Began Tracking Reports of Anosmia, the Loss of Smell, as a Possible Indicator of COVID-19 Infection.

By Dr. Robin Rose

Through additional research and a conversation with a close friend and colleague, Dr. Robin Rose learned that the ENT community was overhauling surgical protocols because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to her colleague, ENTs in China, Iran, and Europe were getting sick from a lack of PPE (personal protective equipment), particularly within certain specialties that performed procedures involving the nasal cavity. Also, included in these correspondences was information being disseminated about the bizarre spike in cases of anosmia being seen.

Two days later, Dr. Robin Rose received a phone call from her sister-in-law and learned her nephew was complaining of having no sense of smell or taste; his only other symptoms were a mild cold. She immediately diagnosed him with COVID-19 as it appears that this symptom alone (or in combination with some of the other mild or moderate symptoms seen with this illness) is COVID-19 until proven otherwise.

Last night, a friend from New York City told me he was recovering from COVID-19. He was sure he and his newlywed wife had it. Both of them had fevers, but are now doing well. They are in their thirties. Neither has been tested, so I asked how they could be so sure? The answer: they had both lost their sense of smell.

Here’s why it matters to you: If you or your family members report losing their sense of smell or taste, that could be a sign of COVID-19 infection. The condition is called anosmia and should trigger immediate quarantine. For more on this, you can read the good work done in the UK here. Here’s a statement from that report:

Post-viral anosmia is one of the leading causes of loss of sense of smell in adults…… Viruses that give rise to the common cold are well known to cause post-infectious loss, and over 200 different viruses are known to cause upper respiratory tract infections……. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that the novel COVID-19 virus would also cause anosmia in infected patients.

There is already good evidence from South Korea, China, and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia. In Germany, it is reported that more than 2 in 3 confirmed cases have anosmia. In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30% of patients testing positive have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.

In addition, there have been a rapidly growing number of reports of a significant increase in the number of patients presenting with anosmia in the absence of other symptoms – this has been widely shared on medical discussion boards by surgeons from all regions managing a high incidence of cases.

Our local papers have been on it as well: see the NYT  and The New York Post.