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Loss of sense of smell, taste among new coronavirus symptoms recognized by CDC

LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Have you had trouble smelling the eggs frying and bread toasting recently? Or tasting that coffee? It could be a sign of coronavirus.

“New loss of taste or smell” is the most intriguing of a group of new coronavirus symptoms recently recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The other new symptoms are more what you might expect from a rampaging virus:

— Chills

— Repeated shaking with chills

— Muscle pain

— Headache

— Sore throat

Previously, the CDC had only recognized fever, cough, and shortness of breath as symptoms of COVID-19, the potentially deadly disease caused by the new coronavirus

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The CDC also tweaked the “shortness of breath” to “shortness of breath or difficulty breathing” in its update to the symptoms listed on its website.

The update, which appears to have been made on April 17 according to the Internet Archive, comes after anecdotal evidence and medical studies both have suggested that loss of sense of smell (anosmia) and taste (ageusia) are symptoms of coronavirus.

Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, for example, recently told the Globe she lost her sense of smell when she had a frightening bout of coronavirus. “As I was experiencing all the symptoms I read about, I was learning firsthand what it felt like, how intense the muscle aches could be, how the eye pain could keep you up all night, what it means to try to eat when you’ve lost your sense of smell," she said.

Raegan Thomas, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told the Globe she also lost her sense of smell. Debora Buonopane, another nurse at the Brigham who recovered from the coronavirus, said she lost both her sense of taste and smell.

George Stephanopoulos, host of “Good Morning America,” said he tested positive for COVID-19, the disease, but had hardly any symptoms. One of them was loss of his sense of smell for a day.

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The scientific evidence is also growing. One study of 60 COVID-19 patients, for example, found that all but one had experienced at least some “smell dysfunction.” Another study of 202 patients found that 130 reported an “altered sense of smell or taste.” Another study of 59 patients found that 40 and 42 of them had suffered smell and taste loss, respectively.

Dr. Eric Holbrook, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School and chief of rhinology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, said he welcomed the new guidance from the CDC on sudden loss of smell or taste.

“I think it’s very important as a screening tool,” he said, particularly because it can occur sometimes without any of the other symptoms. “It may be the only symptom. That’s why it’s important to get the word out.”

“It could increase the ability to identify people who may have COVID-19 and then properly either test them or recommend isolation and prevent further spread,” he said. “It really could be used as an early warning.”

Holbrook, whose research focuses on the sense of smell, noted that the sense of smell and taste are interconnected, with smell playing a key role in people’s ability to sense flavors.

He said people should contact their doctors if they have lost their sense of smell or taste so the doctor can rule out other causes, including loss of smell from a head injury, the gradual loss of smell that people get with age or with certain conditions, or the loss of smell people can get simply from a congested nose.

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He said people who suddenly lose their sense of taste or smell, “regardless of whether or not you have additional symptoms, you should contact a health professional and alert them and ask for further guidance. Until speaking with someone, you should consider you may have COVID-19.”

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com