Anosmia and Ageusia are two words most people hadn’t heard before 2020. Now, we’re painfully aware of them. And even if you’re just now hearing about them, you can probably figure out what they mean after more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic.
Loss of smell and loss of taste, or anosmia and ageusia, are two Covid-19 symptoms that were discovered pretty early on. At first, many people didn’t take these signs seriously. Then again, many people viewed Covid-19 as “just a flu” too. But now, after 2 million recorded deaths worldwide and over 400,000 deaths in the U.S., few people are joking about it.
And even the seemingly harmless symptoms of loss of smell and loss of taste have turned out to have long-lasting and life-altering side-effects.
But if we look beyond all the doom and gloom, anosmia and ageusia have one positive effect too – they can help us identify Covid-19 beyond a shadow of a doubt and without a Covid test. A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine (JIM) showed that as many as 86% of patients with mild Covid-19 cases experience a loss of their sense of taste or smell. More importantly, the combination of these two symptoms is almost unique to Covid-19.
What Does This Mean?
While you can have Covid-19 without experiencing either of these symptoms, their presence almost guarantees that you’ve been affected by the virus. As U.S. Surgeon General and member of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Jerome Adams put it on NPR’s All Things Considered:
“The one symptom that I would alert people to that really differentiates flu from COVID is the loss of taste or smell. If you get that symptom, then you need to be reaching out to your health provider right away and going in and getting a COVID test.”
Naturally, getting tested as soon as possible is the most advisable course of action. However, if, for one reason or another, you can’t get a Covid-19 test, imposing a self-quarantine when you discover that you’re experiencing anosmia and ageusia is a must. And while the U.S. government never really did much on the contact tracing front the way certain other countries did, going through a self-imposed quarantine and contact tracing the people you’ve interacted with can help your community a lot.
Everyone’s Tired of Covid
According to Dr. Jerome Adams, “Covid fatigue” plays a big role. Even though we know much more about the virus and we know the things we must do – such as self-quarantining and contact tracing – people are just tired of dealing with the problem.
“The virus hit different places of the country at different points,” he said in his NPR interview. “And so you’ve had people who’ve been doing these things since February, March, April, but they didn’t really start to see the wave until later on. And they’re just plain tired.”
“Because people in North Dakota or people in Arkansas or people in California may not feel that they have to take the same measures as someone in New York City,” he added. “So I’ve been in South Dakota. I’ve been in Wisconsin. I’ve been in Ohio just over the past two weeks, really speaking directly to people, helping them understand their surges that are going on and the measures that they need to take at their state level.”
Nevertheless, Adams insists that we need to try and overcome the Covid fatigue and do what we can to limit the spread of the disease this season. And keeping an eye for anosmia and ageusia is one of the major signs we should pay attention to.
“The three W’s are most important if you do come together around other people: wear a mask, wash your hands and frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces, and watch your distance from other people,” Adams went on to remind us “And if you can’t do these things in this environment where you’re planning on coming together, then you should probably stay home because, again, this virus is incredibly unforgiving.”
In short, while we’re all tired, it’s now more important than ever to follow the basics:
- Monitor your symptoms and look out for major red flags such as anosmia and ageusia.
- Get a Covid-19 test as soon as you notice any of these symptoms as possible.
- Try to go through a self-quarantine if possible and look for ways to trace your recent contacts.
- Do the “Three Ws” as Adams called them – wash your hands and commonly used surfaces, wear a mask, and watch your distance from other people.
There are several more months until most Covid-19 vaccines start reaching the wider public so saving as many lives as possible before that should be everyone’s main prerogative.