It's been close to impossible to predict what symptoms of coronavirus any given person will experience. Some become seriously ill with everything from organ damage to respiratory failure, others experience stomach issues, and nearly half never have so much as a slight fever. But according to a new study published on Oct. 1, there's one tell-tale COVID symptom that 80 percent of patients exhibit, making it a strong indicator you have COVID before you even get tested: loss of sense of smell.
For this research, a team from University College London studied 590 patients in the U.K. who reported suddenly losing either their sense of smell or taste; 567 of the patients were then given coronavirus tests. The results of the study, which was published in the journal PLoS Medicine, showed that 77.6 percent of those tests overall came back positive for COVID. Specifically, 80.4 percent of subjects reporting anosmia—AKA the loss of smell—and 77.7 percent of those who lost their sense of taste tested positive, CNN reports.
The new study also found that 40 percent of those who tested positive for antibodies never showed any other COVID symptoms whatsoever, including fever or a cough.
But the researchers also found that those who were tested who had only lost their sense smell alone were nearly three times as likely to test positive for coronavirus antibodies as patients who just lost their sense of taste—and those who reported the loss of both smell and taste were four times as likely. Researchers say this makes anosmia a particularly strong symptom for singling out a potential coronavirus infection in patients.
"Our findings show that loss of smell and taste is a highly reliable indicator that someone is likely to have COVID-19 and if we are to reduce the spread of this pandemic, it should now be considered by governments globally as a criterion for self-isolation, testing, and contact tracing," Rachel Batterham, MD, study leader from University College London and University College London Hospitals, said in a statement. "People who notice a loss in their ability to smell every day household odors such as garlic, coffee, and perfumes should self-isolate and seek PCR testing."
Mounting evidence has pointed to the loss of smell as one of the most reliable symptoms of COVID-19, providing health care workers with at least one stable metric to use when triaging patients—especially as flu season arrives. "There are altogether different things going on when it comes to smell and taste loss for COVID-19 patients, compared to those with a bad cold," Carl Philpott, PhD, University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, said in a statement on a related study. "It means that smell and taste tests could be used to discriminate between COVID-19 patients and people with a regular cold or flu."
Curious about more symptoms that could be clear warning signs that you have coronavirus? Read on for the 10 most common COVID symptoms, based on a survey of survivors from the Body Politic COVID-19 Support Group. And if you've already beaten COVID, here are The Longest Lasting COVID Symptoms You Need to Know About.
Patients who experienced the symptom: 69.6 percent
Elevated temperature (between 98.8 and 100 degrees)
Patients who experienced the symptom: 72.4 percent
Patients who experienced the symptom: 72.7 percent
Patients who experienced the symptom: 74.6 percent
Chills or sweats
Patients who experienced the symptom: 76.2 percent
Patients who experienced the symptom: 83.5 percent
Patients who experienced the symptom: 84.0 percent
Shortness of breath
Patients who experienced the symptom: 85.3 percent
Tightness of chest
Patients who experienced the symptom: 87.1 percent
Patients who experienced the symptom: 98.4 percent