May 18, 2020 / 10:04 AM / 19 days ago

UK adds loss of smell and taste to COVID-19 symptom list

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past the front of a closed florist in London, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - The United Kingdom has added the loss of smell and taste to its official list of COVID-19 symptoms including fever and new continuous cough - a step that it hopes could help pick up more cases of the novel coronavirus.

“From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia,” the United Kingdom’s four chief medical officers said in a joint statement.

“Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.”

Other possible symptoms of COVID-19 include fatigue, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or loss of appetite, but have not been included in the basic case definition.

By adding anosmia the sensitivity of new case pick-up could increase to 94 percent from 91 percent with just new cough and fever, said Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer.

When asked why the United Kingdom has lagged other countries in including the loss of smell in its official list, Van-Tam said: “The question is: Which of those symptoms actually make the interception of cases better or worse?”

(This story corrects to show specificity could rise to 94 percent, not 93 percent, after Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam clarified his earlier comments)

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton and Peter Graff

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