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This One Symptom May Mean You Have COVID Now

It's so common, it's a more reliable indicator than fever or cough.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
little girl holding nose

COVID-19 has been so difficult to track and prevent partly because it has so many potential symptoms. A cough can be mistaken for allergies; fever and body aches can be chalked up to the flu. But experts say one symptom makes it pretty clear you've been infected with the novel coronavirus: A loss of taste or smell. That isn't a typical sign of cold, flu or allergies, while research has found it's very often indicative of COVID-19. Read on to hear more, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Smell Loss is So Common in COVID Cases

"Of particular interest is the rather frequent occurrence of loss of smell and taste, which precedes the onset of respiratory symptoms," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease expert, earlier this month. 

According to Scientific American, about 80 percent of people with COVID-19 have disturbances in taste or smell. "Smell loss is so common in people with the disease that some researchers have recommended its use as a diagnostic test because it may be a more reliable marker than fever or other symptoms," the publication said.

On Thursday, ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt tweeted that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and that a loss of taste and smell was his cue to get tested.

RELATED: 7 Tips You Must Follow to Avoid COVID, Say Doctors

Reason for symptoms unclear

Experts aren't sure why COVID causes this interruption—only that it is very common.

"We have been researching this data for less than a year. Still, so far, it suggests that the primary attack of the coronavirus is in the nose, in the nasal epithelium, which is the skinlike layer of cells in charge of expressing odors," said Dr. Leo Nissola, MD, last month. "It seems like the virus assaults support cells and stem cells in the nose."

He added: "These cells maintain the balance and signal the brain. In some patients, when infected with COVID, that balance is disrupted, and that leads to a shutdown of neuronal signaling, and therefore of smell."

And this can linger. A July CDC study found that loss of taste or smell lasts for an average of eight days, but some people experience it for weeks after their initial infection. 

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Just Said When We'd Be Back to "Normal"

How to survive this pandemic

If you experience a loss of taste or smell, or have another sign of COVID-19 infection, the CDC recommends that you stay home, call your doctor for advice, avoid public transportation and separate yourself from other people in your household. If you develop difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in your chest, confusion, the inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips, you should contact emergency services immediately.

And do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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