School of Advanced Study to build on research into ‘smell and taste loss’ symptom of Covid-19

Friday 15 May 2020

A massive global survey of Covid-19 patients from around the world, and coordinated in the UK by the Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes) at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, provides convincing evidence of the link between Covid-19 and the loss of smell, taste and chemesthesis (the kinds of tingling, burning sensations we get from herbs and spices like horseradish and peppermint). 

The findings, to be revealed this month in the journal Chemical Senses, will have implications for prioritising the limited supply of Covid-19 tests.

And now CenSes wants to extend the research. Its director, Professor Barry Smith, says, 'We are interested in hearing from anyone who has noticed any recent changes to their sense of smell or taste. These could be connected to Covid-19 whether you have had other symptoms or not. 

'We need to know more and so a UK team of medical and sensory researchers has designed this survey to gather evidence, working with our colleagues globally at the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers (GCCR) to understand this virus. Please pass on and help if you can.' (Here is the survey link: https://bit.ly/361Dm1J). 

The survey conducted so far was produced from entries from 4,039 participants representing more than 40 countries. The initial findings are understood to reveal that smell, taste and chemesthesis are significantly reduced in patients diagnosed with Covid-19. Since a blocked nose does not appear to be associated with these losses, the findings point to an important way to distinguish Covid-19 infection from other viral infections, such as cold or flu.

Professor Barry Smith, who is also director of the Institute of Philosophy (part of SAS), was the lead for UK researchers in the survey. 'This research establishes the previously anecdotal feedback about the link of Covid-19 to loss of smell,” he said. “The results provide important clues about the routes and mechanisms for infection by the virus, and as a follow up on the first survey the UK group of GCCR has added our own detailed survey about onset, duration and recovery of loss of smell.'

For further information, please contact Professor Barry Smith at barry.smith@sas.ac.uk.