Diagnostician brands government "too slow" to recognise taste and smell loss as Covid-19 symptoms

18 May 2020, 15:10

By Fiona Jones

This diagnostician branded the government too slow in recognising loss of smell and taste as symptoms of coronavirus, and explained what other symptoms people should look out for.

Government scientists have updated the coronavirus symptoms list adding the loss of smell or taste, known as anosmia, as an indicator of infection. Official guidance now instructs those who experience anosmia to self-isolate.

Diagnostics expert Dr Nick Summerton said himself and other medics have been considering anosmia as a symptom of coronavirus "for at least two months", ever since the primary symptoms were identified as coughing and high temperature.

"That's a question that needs to be answered as to where these decisions are being made and why they are so slow."

Dr Summerton said his concerns, which is shared by other clinicians, are that "there doesn't seem to be a lot of clinical advice entering in to these decisions and it seems to be very much dominated by the public health community which are doctors that don't actually really see patients."

"It is strange that it's taken quite so long but it's reassuring we've got there eventually."

He told LBC's Shelagh Fogarty that he and other diagnostic experts look at coronavirus symptoms in three groups: the general viral symptoms - the raised temperature, aches and pains, loss of appetite; entry symptoms - loss of smell and taste, red sore eyes, sore throat and nasal congestion; other symptoms such as diarrhoea and sickness.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty leave 10 Downing Street
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty leave 10 Downing Street. Picture: PA

Dr Summerton explained when coronavirus comes into the body it is attaching to the angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE 2 receptors. The first group of ACE 2 receptors the virus will come across is the back of the nose which controls the sense of smell and taste.

"What I mean by the entry symptoms is symptoms where the virus is actually coming into the body. Getting the nose, getting to the throat, getting to the eyes.

"The really important thing about the loss of smell and taste is it is an early symptom of coronavirus because it's one of these entry symptoms," Dr Summerton, explaining the virus will then travel from the nose down in to the throat or guts.

He reflected that if people recognise that they are losing taste and smell they can be monitored more carefully and will also behave differently, meaning others may not be infected.

Dr Summerton questioned why the government did not consulting those who have the clinical expertise in this area much earlier than they did: "The problem I see...is public health medicine is very much a subject where people won't have seen patients for many many many years. That is a sort of community that is making these sort of clinical decisions.

"To me that seems a slightly eccentric way to run things."

He explained that the "fundamental mistake" the government scientists have made has been relying on data from those hospitalised in China which is "the wrong sort of patients" - these people are significantly more poorly than those in the community who may have the virus.