Scientists from Ohio State University found that the loss of smell and taste with a COVID-19 infection during the delta surge was a prevalent symptom and wasn’t prevented by vaccination.
They also found that some people with the earliest COVID-19 infections were continuing to experience loss of these senses months later and didn’t even realize it.
The research is published in the journal Med and was conducted by Dr. Kai Zhao et al.
In the study, the participants had active infections during the delta surge, and a majority (22 of 25) had been vaccinated.
The team found that 100% were experiencing a diminished or lost sense of smell—but only 54.5% self-reported any problem with odor detection.
The reseachers previously used hard candy as a screening tool for the loss of taste and smell in people at risk for exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
As part of that work, the team used an existing objective screening tool to collect sensory function data from 123 never-infected control participants and 65 people who had previous or active COVID-19 infections.
During the delta surge, the researchers became alarmed by what they found.
The team also found about three-fourths of participants whose mostly mild COVID infections had occurred before delta’s dominance reported no ongoing smell and taste losses.
But over half of those participants were found by the objective screening, conducted between 102 and 785 days after their infection diagnosis, to have a loss of smell.
Beyond these silent smell and taste losses, there were also people who reported that they hadn’t regained taste or smell function for longer than six months.
Effects on the senses include diminished or complete loss of smell and/or taste, disordered smell and/or taste and, least common, smelling odors that are not present at all.
Beyond affecting the quality of life, the loss of smell and taste has health ramifications that include negative effects on nutrition intake and a reduced ability to detect danger—such as a fire or spoiled food.
Since submitting this article for publication in January 2022, the team has been consistently collecting data related to sensory loss and is paying particular attention to long haulers.
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