Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in people with an acute loss in their sense of smell and/or taste in a community-based population in London, UK: An observational cohort study.PLoS Med. 2020 10; 17(10):e1003358.PM
Loss of smell and taste are commonly reported symptoms associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); however, the seroprevalence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) antibodies in people with acute loss of smell and/or taste is unknown. The study aimed to determine the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in a community-based population with acute loss of smell and/or taste and to compare the frequency of COVID-19 associated symptoms in participants with and without SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. It also evaluated whether smell or taste loss are indicative of COVID-19 infection.
METHODS AND FINDINGS
Text messages, sent via primary care centers in London, United Kingdom, invited people with loss of smell and/or taste in the preceding month, to participate. Recruitment took place between 23 April 2020 and 14 May 2020. A total of 590 participants enrolled via a web-based platform and responded to questions about loss of smell and taste and other COVID-19-related symptoms. Mean age was 39.4 years (SD ± 12.0) and 69.1% (n = 392) of participants were female. A total of 567 (96.1%) had a telemedicine consultation during which their COVID-19-related symptoms were verified and a lateral flow immunoassay test that detected SARS-CoV-2 immunoglobulin G (IgG) and immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies was undertaken under medical supervision. A total of 77.6% of 567 participants with acute smell and/or taste loss had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies; of these, 39.8% (n = 175) had neither cough nor fever. New loss of smell was more prevalent in participants with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, compared with those without antibodies (93.4% versus 78.7%, p < 0.001), whereas taste loss was equally prevalent (90.2% versus 89.0%, p = 0.738). Seropositivity for SARS-CoV-2 was 3 times more likely in participants with smell loss (OR 2.86; 95% CI 1.27-6.36; p < 0.001) compared with those with taste loss. The limitations of this study are the lack of a general population control group, the self-reported nature of the smell and taste changes, and the fact our methodology does not take into account the possibility that a population subset may not seroconvert to develop SARS-CoV-2 antibodies post-COVID-19.
Our findings suggest that recent loss of smell is a highly specific COVID-19 symptom and should be considered more generally in guiding case isolation, testing, and treatment of COVID-19.