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London, Ont., researchers studying loss of smell in COVID-19 patients as part of global initiative

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Scientists at Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont., are taking part in an initiative called the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research to study the sudden loss of smell in COVID-19 patients.

According to a statement released by Western University on Friday, the researchers are asking individuals with confirmed or presumptive cases of COVID-19 worldwide to participate in a survey to better understand this symptom of the novel coronavirus disease.

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Anosmia, which is a sudden loss of smell, has been widely reported as a marker of COVID-19, according to the statement.

It says further research is needed but emerging evidence suggests that “more than 60 per cent of COVID-19 patients experience anosmia and that it is often the first symptom of the disease.”

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“While a sudden loss of smell is relatively rare, it is most commonly caused by an upper respiratory tract infection. It therefore stands to reason that COVID-19 could be causing anosmia,” says Dr. Leigh Sowerby, associate scientist at Lawson and associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

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“Colleagues in the United Kingdom first made note of this with a surge of patients presenting with a sudden loss of smell and many of these patients went on to develop COVID-19.”

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In the study, patients with a loss of smell answer questions about their experiences with COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses through a survey.

The survey is designed to better understand the association between anosmia and COVID-19 and determine if the loss of smell is the same in symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, the statement said.

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It adds that researchers also hope to determine whether loss of smell happens before other symptoms of COVID-19, as that could allow for earlier self-isolation advice.

There are therapies that can aid in regaining a sense of smell, but it’s currently unknown whether they are effective for COVID-19 patients, the statement said.

The university said researchers are inviting those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or another respiratory illness to complete the survey at www.covidandsmell.com.