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Coronavirus UK

Coronavirus UK: Chief Medical Officers add loss of smell and taste to list of symptoms

Anosmia has been added to the UK government’s list of coronavirus symptoms but some researchers have argued that the change has come too late.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 18: A commuter wears a protective face mask at Waterloo station on May 18, 2020 in London, England. The British government has started easing the lockdown it imposed two months ago to curb the spread of Covid-19, abandoning its &#039
Dan KitwoodGetty Images

For the first time since coronavirus guidelines were published the UK government has updated its list of symptoms, adding a loss of smell and loss of taste. The decision was explained in a statement from the UK Chief Medical Officers on Monday and calls on individuals to self-isolate immediately if they report the symptoms.

“From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia.

“Anosmia is the loss of or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.”

The current advice is that the sufferer and their whole household should self-isolate for 14 days, or longer if the symptoms persist. This change comes after 17 other countries including the United States had amended their guidelines to include anosmia and experts have warned that the UK may have increased the risk of further infection by not making the change earlier.

Follow our coverage of live coronavirus news as it breaks.

Studies into COVID-19 continue

The coronavirus outbreak grew into a global pandemic so rapidly that there is still no universally agreed list of symptoms and research into the virus is on-going. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists 13 different symptoms and rank loss of taste or smell among the less common. The serious symptoms, which they advise require immediate medical attention, are a difficulty breathing; chest pain or pressure and a loss of speech or movement.

In the UK scientists at King’s College London are using an app to gather information from over 1.5 million people who suspect they may have had coronavirus. Many of the symptoms reported, such as tiredness and diarrhoea, are included in the WHO list of symptoms.

The King’s College study is led by Professor Tim Spector who last week criticised the UK’s reluctance to update the guidelines as new information is gathered: "We list about 14 symptoms which we know are related to having a positive swab test.

"These are not being picked up by the NHS. This country is missing them all and not only underestimating cases but also putting people at risk and continuing the epidemic.

"There's no point telling people to be alert if they don't know the symptoms."

In a briefing on Monday morning the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he supported the decision to add anosmia to the list but that studies were conflicted on how common the symptom was.

“This has been quite a difficult piece of science, because there's a distinction between anosmia can occur with Covid-19 versus whether it occurs early [enough] to be a useful help in detecting more cases”.

“We have seen some signalling in some of the literature that anosmia may be more frequent in females”, he added.


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