Doctors in the U.K. found that it was a common trait in patients who had contracted the coronavirus, however it is also a frequent symptom of the common cold

By Julie Mazziotta
March 23, 2020 11:50 AM
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Along with the well-known symptoms of the new coronavirus — coughing, shortness of breath, fever — doctors have identified another likely sign: a loss of smell or taste.

Losing those senses appears to be an early sign of the virus, officially termed COVID-19, and was a common symptom among patients in South Korea, China and Italy, according to ENT UK, an organization of ear, nose and throat doctors in the U.K.

The group wants doctors worldwide to tell their patients to isolate themselves for seven days if they begin to lose their sense of smell or taste, even if they do not have any other COVID-19 symptoms, The New York Times reported. Losing those senses is also a frequent symptom of the common cold, another, milder form of coronavirus.

“We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Prof. Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, told the Times. “It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”

The doctors at ENT UK cited reports from South Korea, where 30 percent of 2,000 COVID-19 patients with mild cases reported losing their sense of smell as one of their main symptoms. They also pointed to the cases out of Germany, where more than 2 in 3 patients said the lost their sense of smell. However, Germany is not testing at the same rates as South Korea and the data may be skewed.

And Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz player who was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the NBA, said that losing both senses was “definitely” one of his symptoms.

“Just to give you guys an update, loss of smell and taste is definitely one of the symptoms, haven’t been able to smell anything for the last 4 days. Anyone experiencing the same thing?” he tweeted on Sunday, 11 days after he was diagnosed.

Hopkins and the doctors with ENT UK are urging their fellow ear, nose and throat specialists to be especially careful in their practices. Hopkins said that two specialists in the U.K. became infected and are now in critical condition, and there were reports out of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, of the same thing happening there.

They cautioned ear, nose and throat specialists to take extra precautions before moving forward with any endonasal surgeries, as it could bring undue harm to medical workers. In their report, ENT UK said that Stanford University has opted to only perform urgent surgeries for the time being.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology, a similar group to ENT UK based in the U.S., added a warning on their website for nose surgeons to rethink non-emergency surgeries.

“There is evolving evidence that otolaryngologists are among the highest risk group when performing upper airway surgeries and examinations,” said a notice posted on the academy’s website on Friday. “A high rate of transmission of Covid-19 to otolaryngologists has been reported from China, Italy and Iran, many resulting in death.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.