A loss of smell or taste has been added to the list of official coronavirus symptoms alongside a fever and a continuous cough.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam – the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England – said the change had been made following a growing body of evidence which showed the condition, called anosmia, was closely linked with Covid-19.
The public had previously been told that a continuous new cough and a high temperature/fever were the only two key coronavirus symptoms that would require a week of self-isolation at home.
Now the government’s update guidelines explain that members of the public will have to self-isolate and not leave their house for seven days from when the symptoms started. if they are experiencing any of the three symptoms.
Further guidelines advised that if you are living with someone exhibiting either symptom, you should stay at home for 14 days.
Why has it taken so long for anosmia to be added?
At this point, the coronavirus pandemic has been ongoing for a number of months, so why has anosmia only now been recognised as a key symptom?
Critics of the government’s hesitance to put anosmia on the list of key symptoms say that thousands of cases could have been missed, with infected members of the public failing to self-isolate because although they may have had other symptoms, they did not experience the ‘key’ two.
Professor Tim Spector, who led the study by King's College London which prompted the government’s change, had called for guidance to change as far back as 1 April.
"When combined with other symptoms,” he said, “people with loss of smell and taste appear to be three times more likely to have contracted Covid-19 according to our data, and should therefore self-isolate for seven days to reduce the spread of the disease."
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 18 May, shortly before the announcement, Professor Spector said that limiting the list of major symptoms provided by the NHS meant that thousands of cases were being missed.
He added that there are even more symptoms - such as tiredness, stomach pain or diarrhoea - that could also be included: "We list about 14 symptoms which we know are related to having a positive swab test, and these are not being picked up by the NHS.
"At the moment, people are being told to go back to work if they're a care worker, and they've got… severe muscle pains or fatigue - things that we know and we've shown are related to being swabbed positive.”
"This country is missing the ball in underestimated cases, but also putting people at risk, and continuing the epidemic."
What other symptoms should I look out for?
The World Health Organisation say “Covid-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalisation.”
Their website lists fever, dry cough and tiredness as common symptoms, but also points out a number of less common signifiers:
- aches and pains
- sore throat
- loss of taste or smell
- a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes
People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should manage their symptoms at home.
On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.