Losing your sense of smell and/or taste could be a tell-tale sign that you're infected with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, even if you have no other symptoms. If this happens to you, or any of your employees or family members, you or they should go into self-isolation for seven days, even if there are no other symptoms. You should also consider asking for a coronavirus test.
That advice comes from multiple doctors' groups in the U.S. and elsewhere. Many healthcare workers report that their patients complained of a missing or distorted sense of taste or smell, and later tested positive for the coronavirus.
That's what happened to a friend of mine who, after a scary ten days and a brief hospital visit, seems to be recovering from Covid-19. She said everything had a disgusting metallic taste that made her not want to eat or drink or even breathe. In other reports, a mother was unable to smell a full diaper, and chefs were unable to taste the spices in food.
Anosmia (the inability to smell), hyposia (a reduced sense of smell), and dysgeusia (a distorted sense of taste) should all be considered signs of Covid-19 unless explained by some other condition such as rhinosinusitis, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. These symptoms should "warrant serious consideration for self-isolation and testing of these individuals," the Academy said in a statement. Otolaryngology specialists are commonly called ear, nose, and throat doctors, and they have been very hard-hit with Covid-19 infections.
Anosmia seems to be an especially common coronavirus symptom. In South Korea, which has widespread testing for the virus, 30 percent of the 2,000 people who've tested positive reported losing their sense of smell. A doctor in Italy says patients who've been hospitalized often report that their spouses are feeling fine, but have lost their sense of smell and/or taste. And a virologist in Germany who interviewed more than 100 coronavirus patients with only a mild form of the disease says that more than two thirds reported losing their sense of smell and taste for several days.
So what should you do?
1. Spread the word.
Most people are aware that a bad cough, trouble breathing, and a fever could be Covid-19. But fewer know that a lost sense of smell and/or taste might also spell trouble. Make sure your employees, family, and friends know about these symptoms so that they act appropriately if they encounter them.
2. Encourage anyone with these symptoms to self-isolate.
An employee with one of these symptoms could be carrying the coronavirus and might make others ill if he or she continues to work in the office. So don't let that happen. If you still have people coming to your workplace, make sure to send anyone home who experiences these symptoms, and keep others out of that person's workspace until you've had a chance to disinfect it.
If you have employees who are working from home, or are simply staying home to comply with stay-at-home orders, make sure they know to separate themselves from friends and family members if they start having any of these symptoms. Encourage them to self-isolate for at least seven days.
3. Follow these precautions yourself.
Obviously, if you yourself find that your sense of smell is missing or reduced, and that you can't taste your food or it tastes funny or unpleasant, take immediate action to avoid infecting others. Go home, if you aren't there already, and do whatever it takes to eliminate contact with other people for at least seven days. Not only is that the responsible thing to do to avoid spreading the disease, it's also setting an example for your employees. It will tell them more forcefully than words could that you take the coronavirus seriously and are willing to make sacrifices to stop its spread.
It won't be forever. My friend with the virus had been subsisting on chicken noodle soup and small amounts of yogurt for the past week. Today, she had a meal of spaghetti and meatballs that she said she was actually able to taste. Now we know she really is on the mend.