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Loss of taste and smell key COVID-19 symptoms, report declares

These results, which were posted online but not peer-reviewed, were much stronger in predicting a positive COVID-19 diagnosis than self-reported fever, researchers at King’s College London said.

Losing your sense of smell and taste could be a key symptom of COVID-19, a new study suggests.

The researchers say the app could help slow the outbreak and identify more swiftly those at risk of contracting COVID-19.

If enough people participate in sharing their symptoms, the scientists said, the app could also provide healthcare systems with critically valuable information.

“This app-based study is a way to find out where the COVID-19 hotspots are, new symptoms to look out for, and might be used as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks,” said Andrew Chan, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in the US who is co-leading the study.

Of 1.5 million app users between March 24 and March 29, 26 per cent reported one or more symptoms through the app. Of these, 1702 also reported having been tested for COVID-19, with 579 positive results and 1,123 negative results.

Mathematical model

Using all the data collected, the research team developed a mathematical model to identify which combination of symptoms – ranging from loss of smell and taste, to fever, persistent cough, fatigue, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and loss of appetite – was most accurate in predicting COVID-19 infection.

“When combined with other symptoms, people with loss of smell and taste appear to be three times more likely to have contracted COVID-19 according to our data, and should therefore self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of the disease,” said Tim Spector, a King’s professor who led the study.

Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care health sciences at Britain’s Oxford University and who is not involved in the study, said it was the first to demonstrate scientifically and in a large population sample that loss of smell is a characteristic feature of COVID-19.

Spector’s team applied their findings to the more than 400,000 people reporting symptoms via the app who had not yet had a COVID-19 test, and found that almost 13 per cent of them are likely to be infected.

This would suggest that some 50,000 people in Britain may have as yet unconfirmed COVID-19 infections, Spector said.     Reuters

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