In a new study, researchers found that almost two-thirds of the people admitted to an Italian hospital with COVID-19 in March experienced losing their senses of smell and taste.
Additionally, about 22% of those with an impaired sense of smell and taste said it was their first symptom of infection.
The research was conducted by a team at Santa Maria della Misericordia University Hospital in Udine, Italy.
The study involved 93 people with an average age of 63 who were admitted to the non-intensive COVID-19 unit of the hospital in March 2020.
The participants either tested positive for the virus with a swab test, or they showed signs of lung problems with a chest X-ray or scan. They were also interviewed about their symptoms.
Loss of smell and taste was present in 58 people, or 63% of the group. For 13 of the 58, or 22%, the loss of smell and taste was their first symptom. The average duration of the loss of smell and taste was 25 to 30 days.
Researchers also looked at blood work to see if there were certain biomarkers of inflammation.
Compared to coronavirus-infected patients who didn’t lose their sense of smell and taste, the people with a compromised sense of smell had lower amounts of white blood cells or leukocytes.
In particular, a specific subset of white blood cells called neutrophils was reduced. These cells also help the body fight infection.
The team says the loss of smell and taste are common in people who have COVID-19 infections, and the study found that these symptoms often occur before other symptoms, like fever or shortness of breath.
Because of that, clinicians should consider a patient’s loss of smell and taste an early indication of infection, one that is monitored closely while keeping that patient isolated, and possibly quarantined, until a definitive diagnosis can be made.
More research is needed to determine whether this decrease in white blood cells can be used to help identify patients in the early stages of COVID-19 infection.
One author of the study is Francesco Bax, M.D.
The study is published in Neurology Clinical Practice.
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