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18 May 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Anyone who loses sense of smell or taste should self-isolate, government says

By Samuel Horti

Anyone who loses their sense of smell or taste should immediately self-isolate and get tested for coronavirus, the government has said.

In updated guidance, losing your sense of smell, called anosmia, was added to the official list of symptoms that should trigger self-isolation, which previously only included fever and a persistent cough. Anosmia can also trigger a loss of taste.

Experts believe the advice is long overdue. Scientists at King’s College London that have developed a Covid-19 tracker app, currently being used by nearly four million people, said on 1 April that loss of smell and taste was a “key symptom” of coronavirus infection.

Professor Tim Spector, who is leading the group, told the BBC that the government’s narrow definition of coronavirus symptoms means up to 70,000 infections will have gone undetected. Fatigue and severe muscle pain were further symptoms of infection, he said.

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“This country is missing them all, underestimating cases but also putting people at risk and continuing the epidemic,” he said. “There’s no point telling people to be alert if they don’t know the symptoms.”

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England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said government scientific advisers had been discussing the symtpom since late March, and previously concluded that “the data are very preliminary and not the basis for action”.

“As soon as they felt they had a position, they put it to the chief medical officers’ group and action has been taken within a few days,” he said.

Anyone with the symptom should stay at home for seven days, the updated government advice says. Loss of smell or taste, as well as a cough, might last longer than seven days, but after that period you can leave your home unless you have a high temperature or are unwell.

(Image credit: WPA Pool / Getty Images)