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Loss of taste and smell will not be added to Covid-19 symptoms watchlist

UK News | Published:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed he lost his sense of taste while ill with coronavirus but experts say it is not part of the ‘case definition’.

Matt Hancock

Loss of taste and smell will “absolutely not” be added to the list of symptoms people should watch for when measuring their potential for having Covid-19, the Government has confirmed.

The announcement comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he lost his sense of taste when he was struck down by coronavirus last week.

He made his first public appearance on Thursday after self-isolating for seven days following a positive test for the virus.

Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street on Friday, Mr Hancock said: “For me personally, I did lose my sense of taste but it has come back though.

“I can assure people who have lost their sense of taste that the good news is that, in my case, it wasn’t permanent.”

Researchers at King’s College London this week published evidence, based on UK data, which indicated that almost 60% of coronavirus patients experienced a loss of taste and smell.

But Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the advice from experts was that such developments should not be considered tell-tale symptoms to watch for.

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The advice had been issued to the Government by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), Prof Van-Tam told the Number 10 press briefing.

Deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam
Deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said loss of taste and smell would not be added to the list of Covid-19 symptoms to watch for (Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street)

“On the point about loss of taste and smell, we have actually asked our expert advisory committee, Nervtag, to look at this,” he told reporters.

“And there is some anecdotal data in the published domain that there is a proportion of people who do indeed lose their sense of taste and smell.

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“However, we have looked at the data there is, in relation to whether that on its own is a symptom that would be important to add to the case definition, and the answer to that from our experts is absolutely not.”

Prof Van-Tam’s comments come after scientists at King’s College, who have been tracking symptoms via their specially-created app, said smell and taste were experienced by the majority of those diagnosed with Covid-19.

By March 31, the Covid Symptom Tracker App had more than 1.8 million users signed up to log their symptoms, or lack thereof, daily.

Some 59% of the 1.5 million people who had signed up by March 29 and tested positive reported a loss of smell and taste, compared with 18% of those who tested negative, analysis of the data showed.

The researchers said the reports of those symptoms were much stronger in predicting a positive Covid-19 diagnosis than self-reported fever – a symptom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who remains ill in self-isolation following his initial seven day quarantine, is currently experiencing.

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