Coronavirus app finds loss of taste, smell may be better indicators than fever, cough


A new study from researchers in the US and the UK have found that a crowdsourcing app that has users self-report COVID-19 symptoms could be useful for predicting future cases.

The study, published in Nature Medicine, notes the app COVID Symptom Study had 2.6 million users after three weeks across the US, UK and Sweden. The app was able to collect data from asymptomatic patients as well as those with symptoms.

The researchers found that loss of taste and smell are better indicators of COVID-19 than fever and cough.

“We report that loss of smell and taste is a potential predictor of COVID-19 in addition to other, more established, symptoms including high temperature and a new, persistent cough,” the researchers wrote in the study. “COVID-19 appears to cause problems of smell receptors in line with many other respiratory viruses, including previous coronaviruses thought to account for 10–15 [percent] of cases of anosmia.”

Anosmia is the loss of smell.

“We also identify a combination of symptoms, including anosmia, fatigue, persistent cough and loss of appetite, that together might identify individuals with COVID-19,” the researchers added.

In addition to collecting data from asymptomatic and symptomatic patients, it “tracks in real time how the disease progresses by recording self-reported health information on a daily basis, including symptoms, hospitalization, reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) test outcomes, demographic information and pre-existing medical conditions,” the researchers wrote in the study.

The app was created by Zoe Global in conjunction with King’s College London and Massachusetts General Hospital and is available for iOS and Android.

The researchers noted there was nearly 80 percent accuracy when using loss of taste and smell when predicting COVID-19, combined with coughing, fatigue and a loss of appetite.

In mid-March, Fox News reported that loss of taste and smell could be “telltale signs” of the novel coronavirus.

At present, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization list cough and fever among the top three or most common symptoms for COVID-19.

Loss of taste and smell are ranked lower or seen as less common, according to the CDC and WHO.

“Our results suggest that loss of taste or smell is a key early warning sign of COVID-19 infection and should be included in routine screening for the disease,” one of the study’s co-authors, Tim Spector said in a statement. “We strongly urge governments and health authorities everywhere to make this information more widely known and advise anyone experiencing sudden loss of smell or taste to assume that they are infected and follow local self-isolation guidelines.”

As of Wednesday morning, more than 4.1 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 1.33 million of which are in the US, the most impacted country on the planet.

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