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There's one symptom that almost certainly means you have COVID-19: A loss of taste or smell, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and adviser to President Biden. Speaking at a virtual event hosted by the National Congress of American Indians, Fauci reiterated that many people with COVID have no symptoms at all—about 30%. But among those who do, "the clinical manifestations are very, very clear," he said. Read on to learn more about how to identify this symptom—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Smell, taste loss very common
COVID-19 is "very reminiscent of a flu-like syndrome with fever, cough, fatigue, some myalgias [muscle pain]," he added, with one exception: "One thing that's rather unique about COVID-19 is the loss of smell and taste, which sometimes precedes the onset of respiratory symptoms."
Fauci's comments echoed earlier surveys of COVID-19 patients, which found that smell and taste loss are extremely common.
According to Scientific American, that prevalence may be as high as 80 percent. "Smell loss is so common in people with the disease that some researchers have recommended its use as a diagnostic test because it may be a more reliable marker than fever or other symptoms," the publication said.
One of those researchers, Nancy Rawson, a biologist and associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, said smell loss "is one of the earliest symptoms" of COVID, "and it is certainly earlier than fever. Smell loss alone predicts diagnosis better than a fever.”
Experts aren't sure why it happens. But the prevailing theory is that when the virus enters the body through the nose, it can attack and disable cells that help the olfactory (smell) system work.
A July CDC survey found that smell and taste loss lasts eight days, on average. But some people experience it for weeks or months. According to a November study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, some who tested positive for COVID reported their senses of smell and taste hadn't returned six months after their initial infection.
How to survive this pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.