Scientists Explain Why Some COVID-19 Patients Lose Their Sense of Smell

Grant Boone
July 31, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors are learning more about the damage having Covid-19 can do to the body. The study found out that the virus attacks the cells that support the olfactory sensory neurons.

"Our discoveries show that the novel coronavirus changes the feeling of smell in patients not by legitimately contaminating neurons yet by influencing the capacity of supporting cells", said Sandeep Robert Datta, a neurobiology teacher at Harvard Medical School and co-creator on the paper. Covid-19 patients, for example, typically recover their sense of smell within a couple of weeks, whereas the condition brought about by other viral infections are known to damage olfactory sensory neurons to the extent that it can take months for people to recover their sense of smell.

"While we do not yet have the direct evidence for [long-term] consequences yet, such as the development of heart failure, which can be directly attributed to COVID-19, it is quite possible that in a few years this burden will be enormous based on what we know from other viral conditions", Puntmann said. According to the scientists, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a genetic similarity of about 96% to the RaTG13 coronavirus, a virus sampled from the Rhinolophus Affinis (a horseshoe bat species) in China's Yunnan province in 2013.

"I think it's good news because once the infection clears, olfactory neurons don't appear to need to be replaced or rebuilt from scratch", Datta said.

"We really do need to understand where or how the virus has crossed into the human population".

"In this cohort study including 100 patients recently recovered from COVID-19 identified from a COVID-19 test centre, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging revealed cardiac involvement in 78 patients (78 percent) and ongoing myocardial inflammation in sixty patients (sixty percent)".

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The study noted: "In Italy, a large proportion of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) presented with symptoms (71.4 percentage of 31 845 confirmed cases as of June 3, 2020)".

While the researchers also found preexisting cross-reactive T cells in healthy donors, they wrote in the study that the impact those cells could have on the outcome of Covid-19 disease is still unknown.

Some COVID-19 sufferers, however, experience anosmia with no nasal obstruction.

Prof Datta said: "Anosmia seems like a curious phenomenon, but it can be devastating for the small fraction of people in whom it's persistent".

More serious conditions of Anosmia that affect the brain or nerves, such as brain tumors or head trauma, can cause permanent loss of smell. However, for some time, it was unclear why many Covid-19 patients lost their sense of smell.

The advice says people should isolate if they have a new continuous cough, or fever, or anosmia.

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