Doctors around the world are suggesting that a loss or reduced sense of smell and loss of taste are significant symptoms associated with COVID-19, the new coronavirus disease which was caused by SARS-CoV-2. They, however, caution that the evidence is preliminary.
It has been reported that anosmia (the loss of sense of smell) and ageusia (an accompanying diminished sense of taste) have been noted as peculiar telltale symptoms of COVID-19 among a rising number of patients.
In a report by Quartz news agency, Jerome Salomon, the Director-General of Health, for France, on the 20th of March said that losing one’s sense of taste and smell appeared to be symptoms of COVID-19 alongside coughing, fever, headaches, and general aches and pains.
According to a report by The New York Times, “British ear, nose and throat doctors, citing reports from colleagues around the world, called on adults who lose their senses of smell to isolate themselves for seven days, even if they have no other symptoms, to slow the disease’s spread.” Although the published data is limited, doctors are concerned enough to sound the alarm.
In the report, president of the British Rhinological Society, Prof. Claire Hopkins said, “We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate.” He added that “it could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”
Also, the American Academy of Otolaryngology has confirmed on its page that mounting anecdotal evidence indicates that loss of smell and loss of taste senses are significant symptoms associated with COVID-19. It also confirmed that there have been seen in patients who ultimately tested positive with no other symptoms.
Likely genetic mutation?
In an interview with Ventures Africa on the likelihood for COVID-19 to mutate with a new symptom, a Nigerian doctor, Imafiabor Pascal said:
“The symptoms that have been discovered with the COVID-19 virus have not been different from the normal flu symptoms except for some few additions like diarrhoea mixed with blood. We have had some new complaints from patients in the countries that this virus has affected,” he explained.
“So, there is every likely tendency that the new coronavirus has mutated and that is responsible for the new symptoms that people are coming out within those countries that the study was done. Like in the United Kingdom to be particular. There is every chance that people who may have contracted the COVID-19 virus would experience a loss or reduction in the sense of taste and also a loss and reduction in the sense of smell.”
An evolving virus
Another research shows that more diversity is emerging. According to Andrew Rambaut, a molecular evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, “like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) evolves over time through random mutations, only some of which are caught and corrected by the virus’s error correction machinery.”
He added that “over the length of its 30,000-base-pair genome, SARS-CoV-2 accumulates an average of about one to two mutations per month.” Further stating that “it’s about two to four times slower than the flu.” Using these little changes, researchers can draw up phylogenetic trees, much like family trees. They can also make connections between different cases of COVID-19 and gauge whether there might be an undetected spread of the virus.
For now, most medical practitioners may only make suggestions based off on current realities and some unique changes in the behavioural pattern of the virus, largely due to the fact that the disease is novel and much research has not been carried out on it.
The virus may affect male fertility
Aside from current symptoms, Imafiabor further told Ventures Africa that a recent study of the COVID-19 virus in China suggests some concerns that the virus may affect male fertility in future. He concluded by saying that “for now, these are preliminary findings and more often pass off as speculations until large scale documentation are done.”
In Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China, medical officers have suggested the possibility for the COVID-19 virus to affect the production of sperm and the formation of male sex hormones. This suggests that it can cause infertility in men. Therefore, they have advised men who recover from the disease to undergo a fertility test. These claims were made on the 23rd of March by Prof Li Yufeng and his team at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine, Tongji Hospital in Wuhan.
Tongji hospital is affiliated to Huazhong University of Science and Technology and is one of the hospitals designated by the government to treat coronavirus patients since the outbreak of the pandemic.