As we enter cold and flu season, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of a mild cold or flu bug and the symptoms of a mild case of COVID-19. After all, these illnesses are all part of the umbrella term coronavirus (via CDC) so there can be some overlap with similar symptoms. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, we strongly encourage you to stay home and quarantine. No one wants to spread COVID-19, and no one wants your regular cold either.
But how can you tell if your mild symptoms may have been part of our larger pandemic? And what if you had the virus, but were one of the asymptomatic people who don’t know it (via ACP Journals)? A COVID-19 antibody test may provide you with insight, of course, but there are also some other symptoms that might indicate a past infection.
The loss of taste and smell is a huge indicator of a past or current coronavirus infection. “That lost taste and smell — while it’s not absolutely unique — it’s somewhat unique to this new coronavirus,” Thomas Russo, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, says (via Best of Life).
Loss of taste and smell can persist after COVID-19 infection
Loss of smell is so prevalent with COVID-19 cases that it is experienced by up to 80% of diagnosed patients (via Vanderbilt University Medical Center). For some 25% of patients, this loss of smell and the linked loss of taste are the only symptoms they experience. Loss of taste and smell can be temporary, may linger for as long as 30 days after more aggressive symptoms subside, or in some cases, can be permanent.
If you have experienced a loss of taste and/or smell, don’t relax too much. While a past infection may provide you some temporary immunity, you are not guaranteed safe from new infection. Recent reports out of Hong Kong and also Reno, Nevada have shown signs that patients may be susceptible to reinfection (via University of Michigan Health). Michigan Medicine’s Adam Lauring, M.D., Ph.D. explains that it’s not unheard of for immunity to fade over time (think of those tetanus booster shots you’ve probably gotten after an injury). But while reinfection may be possible, it doesn’t mean that it’s probable, so don’t stress too much either.
Loss of taste and smell alone isn’t a sure sign of a COVID-19 infection, but if this symptom is combined with other known symptoms like fever or shortness of breath, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. If you think you may currently have signs of the SARS-COV-2 novel coronavirus, you should consult with your local healthcare provider and get tested.
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