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Self-reported olfactory and taste disorders in SARS-CoV-2 patients: a cross-sectional study

Our take —

This study provides some evidence supporting anecdotal reports of COVID-19 patients losing the sense of taste and/or smell. These relatively mild symptoms may be clinically useful in screening for COVID-19, particularly if they arise early in the course of infection. However, this is a small and nonrandom sample of hospitalized patients. Larger studies will help to clarify the prevalence, timing, and prognostic value of these symptoms.

Study design

Case Series

Study population and setting

Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on March 19, 2020 to the Infectious Disease department of L. Sacco Hospital in Milan, Italy. 59/88 of patients responded to a verbal questionnaire. There were 23 non-respondents due to non-invasive ventilation. 68% of patients were male with a median age of 60.

Summary of Main Findings

Twenty patients (34%) reported either a taste or an olfactory disorder. Eleven (19%) reported both. Of those reporting a taste/olfactory disorder, 12 (60%) experienced these symptoms before hospital admission. All patients’ symptoms were persistent at time of interview.

Study Strengths

First study to measure prevalence of this relatively minor symptom that may arise early in disease course.

Limitations

This was a small, nonrandom sample of hospitalized patients that for practical reasons could not include patients with the most severe disease. The questionnaire was ad hoc and did not include validated instruments. By the nature of the case series, those with milder and asymptomatic infection are not included.

Value added

This is the first published study to measure the prevalence of the loss of taste (dysgeusia) and the loss of smell (anosmia) in COVID-19.