WIRED: Why Is It So Hard to Study Covid-Related Smell Loss?

In March, scientists in the United Kingdom started to notice an unexpected phenomenon. Alongside a fever, dry cough, and general malaise, Covid-19 patients were also reporting a sudden and alarming symptom: They couldn’t smell anything. Anecdotal evidence shared on medical message boards from physicians in Iran, France, Italy, and the United States all described a sharp rise in anosmia, the inability to smell. In Germany at that time, more than two out of three positive cases were anosmic.

Given all of these reports, ENT UK, the professional group that represents ear, nose, and throat specialists in the United Kingdom, recommended that people who suddenly lose their sense of smell isolate for seven days. In a joint letter, Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, and Nirmal Kumar, president of ENT UK, wrote that anosmia “could potentially be used as a screening tool to help identify otherwise asymptomatic patients, who could then be better instructed on self-isolation.”

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