Coronavirus symptoms: Anosmia added to list – what is it? Why it took so long to be added

We had previously been told that a continuous new cough and a high temperature were the only two key coronavirus symptoms which would require a week of self-isolation at home. However, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has stated that a growing body of evidence shows the condition known as anosmia is closely linked with coronavirus and needs to be closely monitored. What is anosmia?


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Medical News Today explains: “Anosmia is the complete loss of the sense of smell.

“It typically results from a head injury, a problem with the nasal passages, or a severe viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

“Other types of smell dysfunction include hyposmia which is the partial loss of the sense of smell, parosmia which is when the perception of smells become distorted, so pleasant smells start to seem unpleasant, or an odour appears to change intensity and phantosmia which is when a person believes that they can smell something, but it is not actually there.”

Post-viral anosmia is one of the leading causes of loss of sense of smell in adults, accounting for up to 40 percent of cases of anosmia.

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.

Previously described coronaviruses are thought to account for 10 -15 percent of cases.

It is therefore no surprise that the novel COVID-19 virus would also cause anosmia in infected patients.

Previous cases of anosmia in COVID-19 patients from different countries

There have been numerous cases and good evidence from South Korea, China and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed anosmia.

In Germany, it was reported that more than two in three confirmed cases have anosmia.

In South Korea, where testing was far more widespread, 30 percent of patients testing positive for COVID-19 had anosmia as their major presenting symptom in otherwise mild cases.


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Why has it taken so long for anosmia to be put on the official list of symptoms of COVID-19?

Critics of the government’s hesitance to put anosmia on the list of key symptoms say that thousands of cases could have been missed, with infected members of the public failing to self-isolate because they did not experience the “key” two warning signs.

 Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London led a study which prompted the government’s change and asked for guidance to change the list as far back as 1 April.

Professor Spector had said at that time: “When combined with other symptoms, people with loss of smell and taste appear to be three times more likely to have contracted COVID-19 according to our data and should therefore self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of the disease.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Professor Spector said that limiting the list of major symptoms provided by the NHS meant that thousands of cases were being missed.

“This country is missing the ball in underestimated cases, but also putting people at risk and continuing the epidemic,” he said.

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