For Immediate Release
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Scientists have now figured out how COVID-19 causes some people to lose their sense of smell. The loss now seems to be temporary, since the actual cells in the nose that detect smell are now known to be unharmed. Temporary loss of smell is called anosmia by doctors. It’s one of the earliest and most commonly reported indicators of COVID-19. In fact, studies suggest it’s a better predictor of infection with the disease than fever and cough.
Until now, exactly why people with COVID-19 stop being able to smell was unclear. It was thought damage or inflammation of the olfactory sensory neurons that detect and transmit the sense of smell to the brain caused the problem. That turned out to be wrong. In a paper published last month, researchers found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, instead attacks the cells that support those smell-detecting neurons, but not the neurons themselves.
“The novel coronavirus changes the sense of smell in patients not by directly infecting neurons, but by affecting the function of supporting cells,” said Sandeep Robert Datta, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and a co-author on the paper published in the journal in Science Advances.
That’s good news because it means the infection isn’t likely to permanently damage COVID-19 patients’ olfactory neural circuits. “Once the infection clears, olfactory neurons don’t appear to need to be replaced or rebuilt from scratch,” according to Datta. COVID-19 patients typically recover their sense of smell over the course of several weeks.
Contact: TJ Brown704firstname.lastname@example.org
Download Media Release COVID-19 - August 15, 2020 (PDF)