Unexplained anosmia, hyposmia, and dysgeusia should be added to the list of possible COVID-19 symptoms for screening purposes, and individuals with such symptoms should consider self-isolation, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) has proposed.
However, a World Health Organization expert said during a March 23 daily briefing on the novel coronavirus pandemic that the jury is still out on that.
The AAO-HNSis based on “rapidly accumulating” anecdotal evidence that such symptoms – in the absence of other symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 – have sometimes preceded a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“... anosmia, hyposmia, and dysgeusia in the absence of other respiratory disease such as allergic rhinitis, acute rhinosinusitis, or chronic rhinosinusitis should alert physicians to the possibility of COVID-19 infection and warrant serious consideration for self-isolation and testing of these individuals,” the AAO-HNS said in a statement on the proposal.
, an organization representing Ear, Nose, and Throat surgery and its related specialties in the UK, also is the potential importance of these symptoms. In a March 21 letter, ENT UK experts cited “good evidence from South Korea, China and Italy that significant numbers of patients with proven COVID-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia.”
Claire Hopkins, BMBCh, president of the British Rhinological Society and a professor of Rhinology at King’s College London, along with ENT UK president Nirmal Kumar, also noted in the letter that two of every three cases in Germany, and 30% of patients testing positive in South Korea, had anosmia as their first symptom.
“While there is a chance the apparent increase in incidence could merely reflect the attention COVID-19 has attracted in the media, and that such cases may be caused by typical rhinovirus and coronavirus strains, it could potentially be used as a screening tool to help identify otherwise asymptomatic patients, who could then be better instructed on self-isolation,” they wrote.
Maria Van Kerkhove, MD, technical lead of the WHO Medical Emergencies Program, acknowledged the anecdotal evidence during the.
“Yes, we’ve seen quite a few reports ... but this is something that we need to look into to really capture if this is one of the early signs and symptoms of COVID-19,” she said, noting that WHO is working with more than a dozen countries that are systematically collecting data using molecular and serological testing to “capture more robustly” the early signs and symptoms, and is “reaching out to a number of countries and looking at the cases that have already been reported to see if [anosmia] is a common feature.”
“We don’t have the answer to that,” she said, adding that, in addition to the major symptoms – including dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath – that are well known at this point, “there are likely to be many signs and symptoms that people have.”
“A loss of smell or a loss of taste is something that we’re looking into, and we’re looking forward to the results of these early investigations ... so that we have a more evidence-based approach and we can add that to the list.”