Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is responsible for the largest pandemic since the 1918 influenza A virus subtype H1N1 influenza outbreak. The symptoms presently recognized by the World Health Organization are cough, fever, tiredness, and difficulty breathing. Patient-reported smell and taste loss has been associated with COVID-19 infection, yet no empirical olfactory testing on a cohort of COVID-19 patients has been performed.
Methods: The University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), a well-validated 40-odorant test, was administered to 60 confirmed COVID-19 inpatients and 60 age- and sex-matched controls to assess the magnitude and frequency of their olfactory dysfunction. A mixed effects analysis of variance determined whether meaningful differences in test scores existed between the 2 groups and if the test scores were differentially influenced by sex.
Results: Fifty-nine (98%) of the 60 patients exhibited some smell dysfunction (mean [95% CI] UPSIT score: 20.98 [19.47, 22.48]; controls: 34.10 [33.31, 34.88]; p < 0.0001). Thirty-five of the 60 patients (58%) were either anosmic (15/60; 25%) or severely microsmic (20/60; 33%); 16 exhibited moderate microsmia (16/60; 27%), 8 mild microsmia (8/60; 13%), and 1 normosmia (1/60; 2%). Deficits were evident for all 40 UPSIT odorants. No meaningful relationships between the test scores and sex, disease severity, or comorbidities were found.
Conclusion: Quantitative smell testing demonstrates that decreased smell function, but not always anosmia, is a major marker for SARS-CoV-2 infection and suggests the possibility that smell testing may help, in some cases, to identify COVID-19 patients in need of early treatment or quarantine.
Keywords: COVID-19; UPSIT; biomarker; chronic rhinosinusitis; olfaction; olfactory disorders; olfactory test.
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