Loss of Smell Is No Longer Telltale Sign of COVID
The arrival of fall reminds us to prepare for the usual sniffles and coughs that come with the colder months ahead. Adding to the mix of worries is the ongoing concern of COVID-19. However, a recent study suggests that losing the sense of smell — once considered a symptom of COVID-19 — might not be a reliable indicator anymore.
The results come from an analysis of a large set of medical records gathered by the National Institutes of Health for COVID-19 researchers across the country.
Dr. Evan Reiter, led the study at VCU Health’s Smell and Taste Disorders Center and published a report in May in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. The report investigated the likelihood of COVID-19 patients experiencing loss of smell and taste. Initially, about half of the cases showed loss of smell during the early pandemic phase, but recent research indicates a lower prevalence of 3% to 4% during the Omicron waves.
This study highlights the evolving symptoms caused by the virus due to emerging variants and the protection offered by immunity from prior infections and vaccinations, which early patients lacked.
Another recent study from University College London noted a significant decrease in cases reporting a loss of taste or smell. This was after the emergence of the Omicron strain in 2021. As new variants emerged, the symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 started resembling common respiratory issues. The highly contagious Omicron strains even led to more coughing and sneezing, as highlighted in the journal Scientific Reports.
During both last year’s and this year’s Omicron waves, the study noted that “the likelihood of losing the sense of smell due to infection was as low as 6%, in contrast to the rates observed in 2020.” The latest CDC data indicates that nearly all the currently circulating COVID-19 strains are versions of the Omicron variant.