We Have a Possible New Symptom of the Wuhan Coronavirus

Posted: Mar 23, 2020 4:00 PM
We Have a Possible New Symptom of the Wuhan Coronavirus

Source: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic still has the world on edge. Italy has been ravaged by the illness, with tens of thousands infected and thousands of deaths. The U.S. also has tens of thousands of confirmed cases, but the death toll isn’t nearly as high. For Italy, the good news is the number of confirmed cases today shows that the nation’s lockdown is working and there may be signs that the curve is starting to flatten over there. Again, things can change. 

The disease has crashed the markets. The virus is highly contagious and very lethal to those who are over the age of 65 and the immunocompromised. That doesn’t mean younger people can’t get it. They can and have—and some have died already. A woman in her 30s is said to have passed away from the virus in the St. Louis area. Young people can still get really sick, but a great many will either have mild symptoms or be asymptomatic. That’s good and bad news. The bad news is that since people who are mild-to-asymptomatic-aren’t deathly ill, they could go outside and spread it to those who are highly susceptible to dying from the virus. This disease can survive in the air for hours and on certain surfaces for up to three days. The symptoms are fever, cough, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. Yet, across the pond, in the UK, we have a new symptom that is causing concern for doctors: loss of smell (via NYT):

A mother who was infected with the coronavirus couldn’t smell her baby’s full diaper. Cooks who can usually name every spice in a restaurant dish can’t smell curry or garlic, and food tastes bland. Others say they can’t pick up the sweet scent of shampoo or the foul odor of kitty litter.

Anosmia, the loss of sense of smell, and ageusia, an accompanying diminished sense of taste, have emerged as peculiar telltale signs of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and possible markers of infection.

On Friday, British ear, nose and throat doctors, citing reports from colleagues around the world, called on adults who lose their senses of smell to isolate themselves for seven days, even if they have no other symptoms, to slow the disease’s spread. The published data is limited, but doctors are concerned enough to raise warnings.

“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, wrote in an email. “It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”

She and Nirmal Kumar, president of ENT UK, a group representing ear, nose and throat doctors in Britain, issued a joint statement urging health care workers to use personal protective equipment when treating any patients who have lost their senses of smell, and advised against performing nonessential sinus endoscopy procedures on anyone, because the virus replicates in the nose and the throat and an exam can prompt coughs or sneezes that expose the doctor to a high level of virus.

Two ear, nose and throat specialists in Britain who have been infected with the coronavirus are in critical condition, Dr. Hopkins said. Earlier reports from Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus first emerged, had warned that ear, nose and throat specialists as well as eye doctors were infected and dying in large numbers, Dr. Hopkins said.

The British physicians cited reports from other countries indicating that significant numbers of coronavirus patients experienced anosmia, saying that in South Korea, where testing has been widespread, 30 percent of 2,000 patients who tested positive experienced anosmia as their major presenting symptom (these were mild cases).

The American Academy of Otolaryngology on Sunday posted information on its website saying that mounting anecdotal evidence indicates that lost or reduced sense of smell and loss of taste are significant symptoms associated with Covid-19, and that they have been seen in patients who ultimately tested positive with no other symptoms.

Times are tense. But again, let’s not forget that for the moment, this virus is not even close to infecting or killing as many Americans as the seasonal flu does every year. The recovery rate for this virus is also very high, like in the 90s of percent. BUT it is essential to practice good hygiene, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and engage in social distancing. An infected person can spread the disease to at least two-to-three people, whereas the flu is a one-to-one ratio. The weather is getting warmer, BBQs, and spring gatherings should be happening, I know. But hold off. The more people practice social distancing, the sooner we can get back to our normal routines. Hold fast, everyone.