DETROIT – It's a startling symptom being experienced by some patients infected by the coronavirus -- the sudden loss of taste and smell.
The medical terms are anosmia -- loss of smell; and dysgeusia -- change in taste.
It’s thought by some experts that the novel coronavirus might be affecting the nerves that carry those senses. Researchers want to learn much more about this unusual symptom as quickly as possible, and they’re asking the public for help.
John Hayes, Ph.D., is the lead investigator at Penn State University on the global study.
“We’ve known for many years that when you have a viral illness, you might lose your sense of smell temporarily or permanently, and over the last three weeks, it’s become apparent that COVID-19 may be a little unique in this respect in that it may or may not uniquely target that sense of smell in a way that other viruses don’t,” said Hayes.
Scientists around the world have joined the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers (GCCR) to investigate the connection between these senses and COVID-19.
"At this point we have over 400 people, and that includes research scientists, but also clinicians, includes patient advocates, from at least 35 different countries," said Hayes.
The study is recruiting patients over age 18 who’ve had a recent respiratory illness to answer a brief survey about their symptoms and health history.
"If someone has not had the loss of smell or taste, we want to know that as well. So we really want anybody that's had a recent respiratory illness, whether it's the flu, a common cold or COVID-19," explained Hayes.
Researchers started collecting data yesterday and already have several hundred surveys completed.
"We're hoping to get thousands, because we really need those numbers to be able to see differences perhaps across countries, and also the dive a little deeper into, you know, not just questions of is smell and taste loss occurring, but does it show a specific pattern with other symptoms," said Hayes.
Hayes noted the researchers also hope to raise awareness that loss of taste and smell are not exclusive to patients suffering from COVID-19.
“It can happen with head trauma. It can happen with viral illnesses. So just because someone has had a loss of sense of smell, does not mean that they have COVID-19,” said Hayes.
“There have been some calls that people that lose their sense of smell and are otherwise asymptomatic for those people to self isolate. It’s probably a little premature to say that,” said Hayes. “We know that from Google trend research that people are searching ‘loss of smell.’ Those number of searches have gone way up, but at what point does that become a positive feedback loop, people are talking about it more than they usually do, so people are thinking about it more, so we really need collect solid data to be able to answer that question.”
Like other research related to COVID-19, this study plans to produce results quickly.
"We are taking an open science approach here, so as new data comes in, it will be posted to a public data repository and our data analytics team is already figuring out how they're going to analyze this to really get this information out the door as fast as possible," said Hayes.