With more coronavirus patients reporting the loss of smell and taste, medical experts have started paying closer attention to such cases, suspecting the symptoms may be indicators of infection.
Norio Sugaya, a doctor with expertise in infectious diseases at Keiyu Hospital in Yokohama, pointed out there are some cases in which patients suffer a reduced sense of smell when they are infected with coronaviruses or rhinovirus, both of which are known to cause the common cold.
“It is possible that the virus attaches to a mucous membrane in the nose and obstructs the function of the olfactory nerve,” Sugaya said, adding similar cases should be analyzed. Still, he warned, other factors may still be the cause of the symptoms.
Odors are detected by sensory neurons in the olfactory epithelium in the posterior of the nose and transmitted by an electrical signal to the olfactory bulb located in the front of the brain.
In humans, the senses of smell and taste are related because they use the same kinds of receptors.
So far, typical symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus include prolonged fever and fatigue, with very few cases of nasal congestion or runny noses having been reported.
“If patients have lost the sense of smell or taste even though they have no nasal symptoms, you might want to pay close attention to them,” said Yuji Toyama, chief of an otorhinolaryngology clinic in Osaka.
Hiroshi Umeda, who is in charge of the information management for infectious diseases at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, pointed out that those symptoms may become recognizable markers if they are confirmed as distinctive features of COVID-19.
Earlier this week, the Hanshin Tigers, a professional Japanese baseball club, announced that three of its players had tested positive for the pneumonia-causing virus, with one, pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, complaining he had lost his sense of smell and taste. The three are the first professional baseball players in Japan to publicly confirm they have tested positive for the virus.
In the United States, National Basketball Association player Rudy Gobert with the Utah Jazz tweeted earlier this month “loss of smell and taste is definitely one of the symptoms, haven’t been able to smell anything for the last 4 days,” after announcing his infection.
Gobert’s positive test result triggered a shutdown of the NBA season and had a cascading effect across other U.S. sports.
Also, a medical association in Daegu, South Korea, which was hit by a wave of COVID-19 cases, had reported that after conducting a telephone survey with about 3,200 people infected with the virus, it learned that 490 people had problems with either the sense of smell or taste.
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