SCIENTISTS have said mass screening for loss of taste and smell will “save lives” and “reduce infection rates” by detecting hidden coronavirus cases.
Researchers at King’s College London have said anosmia should form part of screening measures for Covid-19.
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So far in the UK over 39,000 people have died from the virus and the researchers said as countries start to lift lockdown restrictions, it will be imperative to correctly contract-trace infected individuals.
Introducing screening for loss of taste and smell, they say, will help trace 16 per cent of cases that may otherwise be missed.
The researchers also suggested that policymakers should consider the findings and the implications for mass screening.
They added that this could be part of public health measures in schools, airports, hospitals and care homes.
The team had also found last month that young women were more likely to suffer from anosmia as a coronavirus symptom.
They found that women in their 30s and 40 were reporting losing their sense of smell and taste more frequently than others.
What is anosmia?
Anosmia is when you lose your sense of smell, which can be due to a number of different reasons. On May 18 the government added loss of sense and smell to the official list of coronavirus symptoms.
The most common include:
- a cold or flu
- a sinus infection
- an allergy – like hay fever
- growths in your nose
It's estimated 6,000 people in the UK are born without a sense of smell and it can be diagnosed by doctors by using acetylcysteine tests.
Often the condition can be unpleasant and affect your enjoyment of food.
It may go away in weeks or months by itself, but there are certain things you can do to alleviate it.
This includes rinsing the inside of your nose with a salt water solution, if your loss of smell has been caused by an infection or allergy.
You can also pick up sachets and a device from some pharmacies which can help you make a salt water solution.
The team at King’s College, led by Professor Tim Spector had previously developed a Covid Symptom study app.
Data was collected from 3.7 million users from March up to 19 May.
From 76,260 people with symptoms who tested positive for Covid, 28.5 per cent never reported any fever or cough in contrast to 16 per cent who reported loss of smell and taste- but no fever or cough.
Despite the evidence, the importance of the extra symptoms had originally been disputed by sections of the government.
The letter, published in The Lancet revealed that the prevalence of loss of smell and taste was three times higher in individuals testing positive (65 per cent) than in those testing negative (22 per cent).
It also found that anosmia was the strongest single predictor of being infected.
The scientists suggested that people with anosmia should self-isolate for at least seven days or until they are able to obtain a test.
Prof Tim said: "We believe that loss of smell and taste is a very common COVID-19 symptom and in fact, occurs more often than fever and lasts longer (5 days on average compared to only 2 for fever). Infections could be reduced, and lives saved now that this non-flu-like symptom is widely recognised, and actions are taken."
He added: "Our data suggests that low-cost so-called 'smell the difference' screening tests, that are already being used in some workplaces to screen people as they enter buildings, would capture a larger number of positive cases than temperature sensors do.
“We therefore feel that it should form part of a wider public health approach to reducing the infection rate."
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