Loss of smell or taste linked to coronavirus symptoms in the UK

18 May 2020, 11:00 | Updated: 18 May 2020, 11:46

Loss of sense of smell is now considered a symptom of coronavirus in the UK
Loss of sense of smell is now considered a symptom of coronavirus in the UK. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The combined Chief Medical Officers of the UK have added loss of smell among the criteria for deciding whether someone has Covid-19 encouraging those with anosmia to self-isolate.

The four senior advisers have jointly signed a letter updating the coronavirus symptoms list adding the loss of sense of smell or taste to the list.

It comes as one senior scientist has criticised the UK's symptom list as not being as extensive as other countries.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, along with France have all added the loss of smell and taste to their official lists of coronavirus symptoms.

What is anosmia and should you self-isoalte?

In a letter, the four Chief Medical Officers said: “From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia.

“Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.

“We have been closely monitoring the emerging data and evidence on Covid-19 and after thorough consideration, we are now confident enough to recommend this new measure.”

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On Monday Professor Tim Spector, head of the department of genetic epidemiology and leader of the Covid symptom study app at King's College London, said 50,000 to 70,000 people in the UK with Covid-19 are not being told to self-isolate.

He said the NHS was failing to track all symptoms of coronavirus, including loss of taste and smell.

"We list about 14 symptoms which we know are related to having a positive swab test, and these are not being picked up by the NHS."

He said 17 other countries including the US had altered their list of symptoms, but not the UK.

Results from the King's College coronavirus tracker app, published on 1 April, found that 59% of users testing positive for Covid-19 reported loss of smell or taste.

In South Korea, where testing has been more widespread, 30 per cent of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 have had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases

The Chief Medical Officers advised: “The individual’s household should also self-isolate for 14 days as per the current guidelines and the individual should stay at home for 7 days, or longer if they still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell.”