Do you have coronavirus? Research may have identified the most reliable symptom

Coronavirus has hit the UK hard this weekend, with a further 29 hospital deaths confirmed today – up by 11 from the previous Sunday. Yesterday painted an even grimmer picture, with the hospital death toll more than double that of the week before. The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an interview with Andrew Marr earlier that it will “continue to be bumpy through to Christmas” and possibly into 2021.

Amid all this uncertainty and escalation, spotting the telltale signs of COVID-19 – the disease spawned from SARS-CoV- 2 – is more important than ever.

Reports have shown the viral disease can cause a spectrum of symptoms, prompting much confusion.

However, a new study conducted by researchers at UCL and UCLH (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust), may have identified the most reliable indicator of COVID-19.

The key finding is that acute loss of sense of smell and/or taste appears to be the most common indicator of the viral disease.

In light of this discovery, the researchers are calling on health bodies and governments to treat this symptom as a criterion for self-isolation, testing, and contact tracing.

How did they arrive at this finding?

The study analysed health data from those infected at the height of the pandemic in London.

They found 78 percent of people who reported sudden loss of smell and/or taste at the height of the pandemic had Covid-19 antibodies.

Of these people, 40 percent did not have a cough or fever, the researchers found.

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It has long been established that COVID-19 can cause loss or reduced ability to smell (anosmia) or taste, without cough or fever.

The NHS has listed it as one of the main symptoms, alongside a new, continuous cough and fever.

According to the researchers, it’s the first time a precise figure has been calculated, however.

For this study, researchers looked at a group of people in the community with loss of smell and/or taste, to see how many had antibodies.

Since a high proportion of this group had antibodies, this suggests smell and/or taste loss is highly predictive of a COVID-19 infection.

Although self-isolation and testing on the basis of smell or taste loss alone is recommended in the UK, at a global level few countries recognise loss of smell and/or taste as symptoms and advise testing and self-isolation.

The majority are focused on fever and respiratory symptoms.

Researchers said this must change in order to slow down the spread of the pandemic.

Lead author Professor Batterham said: “As we approach a second wave of infections, early recognition of COVID-19 symptoms by the public together with rapid self-isolation and testing will be of vital importance to limit disease spread.

“Acute loss of sense of smell needs to be considered globally as a criterion of self-isolation, testing, and contact tracing.

“Our findings suggest that a key public health message is that people who notice a loss in their ability to smell everyday house-hold odours such as garlic, onions, coffee, and perfumes should self-isolate and seek PCR testing.”

What should I do if I lose my taste and/or sense of smell?

According to the NHS, if you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus:

  • Get a test to check if you have coronavirus as soon as possible.
  • Stay at home and do not have visitors until you get your test result – only leave your home to have a test.

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