Loss of smell or taste added to UK coronavirus symptom list

18 May 2020, 11:00

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

Government scientists have added loss of smell among the criteria for deciding whether someone has Covid-19 encouraging those with anosmia to self-isolate.

The UK's four Chief Medical Officers have updated the coronavirus symptoms list adding the loss of sense of smell or taste as an indicator of infection.

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.

England's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the move would mean 93 per cent of cases where people have symptoms are now picked up, a rise from 91 per cent previously.

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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.”

On Monday, Prof Van-Tam said people should now watch out for a "loss of or change in your normal" sense of smell or taste.

He said it had been known for a while that people were reporting loss of smell and taste as symptoms but advisers had need to look at in detail.

He said the science around it had been difficult, adding that there had been variables around how common the symptom is and Nervtag "have been keeping a close eye on this for quite some time".

He said there were some cases where the symptom appeared early on "but in many cases, it does not appear early".

He said it was unclear whether or not loss of sense of taste and smell was acquired prior to other Covid-19 symptoms.