Experts have found out how and why the virus affects the sense of smell and taste. with the BBC.
The loss of smell that can accompany COVID-19 is very different from what people sometimes experience with a common cold or flu.
This is stated with confidence by European researchers who studied the experience of patients who survived the coronavirus and published the results of their work in the journal Rhinology.
With COVID-19, the loss of smell is immediate and almost complete. At the same time, symptoms such as a clogged nose or a severe runny nose are usually not observed: most often, patients with coronavirus can breathe freely (lung problems are another story).
To this should be added the loss of taste, and the loss is real: that is, in patients, not only taste changes change in connection with the loss of smell, which would be quite understandable, but they completely lose it - so that they are not able to distinguish sweet from bitter.
Experts suspect that the virus directly affects the nerve cells responsible for the perception of taste and smell.
During the study, the head of the group from the University of East Anglia, Professor Carl Philpot, selected a group of 30 volunteers: 10 of them were sick with coronavirus, another 10 suffered from colds, and the rest were completely healthy.
In patients with COVID-19, the loss of smell was observed especially clearly. They could hardly distinguish smells and could not at all distinguish sweet from bitter.
“It looks like there are, in fact, hallmarks that differentiate the coronavirus from other respiratory diseases,” says Prof Philpot. "And this is very important, because testing for smell and taste would help distinguish patients with coronavirus from patients with the usual flu or cold."
According to the professor, people could successfully carry out such tests themselves at home, using improvised products like coffee, garlic, lemons and sugar.
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At the same time, he emphasizes that if a coronavirus is suspected, a routine test, in which samples are taken from the nose and throat, is still necessary.
By the way, in most patients with coronavirus, the sense of smell and taste return to normal after a few weeks.
Is it all about the nose?
To understand the biochemical mechanism of olfactory loss, Johns Hopkins University professor Andrew Lane decided to look deeper into patients' noses and made an important discovery there, the results of which were published in the European Respiratory Journal.
Professor Lane and his colleagues found an extremely high concentration of the enzyme ACE-2 in the zone responsible for smell, (human ACE-2 is a receptor and entry point into the cell of some coronaviruses). This enzyme, according to scientists, serves as a kind of gateway that allows the coronavirus to enter the cells of the body and cause infection.
“We are now conducting additional laboratory experiments to find out if the virus actually uses these cells to enter the human body and infect it,” explains Professor Lane. "If this is indeed the case, then we could cope with this infection through antiviral therapy by treating directly through the nose."