Loss of taste and smell may be top indicators of COVID-19

Loss of a sense of taste and smell are not just possible symptoms of COVID-19. A study now argues they may be among the most predictive ones.

Loss of taste and smell may be top indicators of COVID-19

Losing the ability to smell and taste may be some of the clearest signs that someone has COVID-19. That’s the finding of a new study. It was based on data from a COVID-19 smartphone app.

Between March 24 and April 21, nearly 2.5 million people in the United Kingdom used that app. So did another 170,000 people in the United States. Each fed in data on whether they felt well or had symptoms.

Explainer: How PCR works

Some of those app users had been tested for the virus and reported their results. Those tests use what’s known as PCR to search for genetic evidence of SARS-CoV-2. That’s the virus that causes COVID-19. In all, 6,400 U.K. residents and 726 U.S. participants had tested positive for this coronavirus. Nearly two in every three individuals known to have the virus reported having lost their sense of taste and small. Only about one in five people who tested negative had diminished senses.

Not everyone with COVID-19 has all the same symptoms. Claire Steves and Tim Spector work in England at King’s College, London. They led a team that used data from the app to figure out which mix of symptoms best predicted who had COVID-19. Among people already diagnosed with coronavirus, loss of taste and smell, extreme fatigue, cough and loss of appetite proved the most predictive symptoms.

Based on these data, the researchers estimated how many of the untested app users were likely to be infected, too. More than 800,000 people said they were ill. About 140,000 of those ill people probably have COVID-19, the researchers now predict.

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They researchers shared their findings May 11 in Nature Medicine.

The World Health Organization lists loss of taste and smell as a less common COVID-19 symptom. But the King’s College team say their new findings suggest those sensory losses should be added to the list of top symptoms used to screen people for the disease.

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Let’s learn about earthquakes

Dozens of quakes happen every day, but most aren’t big enough for people to notice.

Let’s learn about earthquakes

Earthquakes occur where two tectonic plates meet. These tectonic plates, which make up the Earth’s crust, are moving. Very, very slowly. In some places, that movement is fairly smooth. In others, bits of crust stick. Energy builds up. When the bits unstick, the energy is released. It moves outward from that spot in waves. Those waves shake the ground.

Not all earthquakes start that way, though. Quakes also can be caused by human activity. They can occur where oil and gas operations inject large amounts of wastewater deep underground. This causes the pressure of fluids under the ground to increase. And in some areas of the world, such as Oklahoma, this has triggered quakes.

Every day, somewhere in the world, the earth shakes. In fact, this happens dozens of times daily. In a year, there are some 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes worldwide. The vast majority are so small that no one feels them. Their shaking is recorded only with seismic equipment. There are also tremors that cause shaking we can feel, but that cause no damage.

Once a month or so, though, there is a major earthquake somewhere on the planet. This is a quake that measures 7 or more on the Richter scale. And once a year, there will be a great earthquake of magnitude 8 or more. These types of earthquakes can be devastating. They may level cities and kill thousands.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get your started:

Three things scientists want to know after California’s July 2019 earthquakes: One of them — is tectonic activity slowly shifting away from the San Andreas fault? (July 24, 2019) Readability: 7.4

A million tiny quakes shook Southern California — and no one knew: Data on lots of little quakes can help scientists learn about what triggers the big ones (5/31/2019) Readability: 7.8

Nepal earthquake offers hints of worse to come: Even larger quakes could strike among the Himalayas (4/29/2015) Readability: 6.6

The quake that shook up geology: A huge earthquake in Alaska in March 1964 triggered a shift in what geologists know about Earth (3/26/2014) Readability: 6.4

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Scientists Say: Frequency

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See how the size of a building and the materials it’s made from can change the frequency of vibrations during shaking with this activity from the Exploratorium.

Learn more about the science of earthquakes from the U.S. Geological Survey — and map the last 24 hours of reports of earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater from around the world.

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