Researchers call for taste tests as part of Covid-19 screening

28 May 2020

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A group of researchers is calling for taste tests to be part of the Covid-19 screening process, based on findings in a small study.

While having a cough, shortness of breath and a fever are among the most common symptoms of Covid-19, there have been increasing claims that some people who contract the virus can also have their sense of taste affected. Now, researchers from the University of Toledo have revealed findings to suggest how prevalent this may be.

In a paper published to Gastroenterology, the researchers said they looked at data from five previous studies of a total of 817 Covid-19 patients between January and March. Just under half (49.8pc) of these patients experienced changes in their sense of taste.

The researchers went on to state that they suspect the true prevalence could be even higher because some of the studies were based on reviews of patient charts, which may not have noted every symptom.

According to the paper’s lead author, Dr Muhammad Aziz, this was likely due to the severity of the three most discussed symptoms.

‘A significant proportion’

“We were beginning to note that altered or lost sense of taste were also present, not just here and there, but in a significant proportion,” he said.

“We propose that this symptom should be one of the screening symptoms in addition to the fever, shortness of breath and productive cough. Not just for suspected Covid-19 patients, but also for the general population to identify healthy carriers of the virus.”

Recent studies – while small in sample size – have suggested that the number of asymptomatic Covid-19 cases may be higher than once thought.

While the University of Toledo researchers were not attempting to find why a person’s sense of taste might be affected, they theorised it could be due Covid-19’s ability to bind to the ACE-2 receptor expressed in epithelial cells on the tongue and mouth.

Aziz said the drip of new information shows the need for more scientists to dig into the impacts of the disease.

“A lot of things are being missed, which is why I think researchers from every field should try to look into this and see if it’s affecting their specialty in one way or another,” he said. “Who knows what systems this virus is affecting. If we can catch it earlier in the disease course, we can prevent the spread of the virus and potentially have ways of managing it.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic