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COVID Often Caused Loss of Smell and Taste . . . Until Omicron

January 20, 2022

Loss of sense of smell or taste, once a signature symptom of COVID-19, doesn't necessarily apply to the Omicron variant. A new study by the U.K. Health Security Agency, in fact, found loss of smell or taste in only about 13 percent of cases tracked by the nation's National Health Service. Those infected with Delta reported loss of smell or taste in about 34 percent of cases, according to the health agency. Of the first 43 Omicron cases identified in the United States in early December, only three people reported losing smell or taste, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But about 48 percent of people infected with the original COVID-19 strain experienced loss of smell or taste, based on a review of 27 medical studies. "Some of the markers, and this is not 100 percent validity, we do look at say a loss of sense of taste or smell would probably be more consistent with COVID," says Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare's System Director of Infection Disease and Chief Epidemiologist. "The respiratory tract, since it is a respiratory disease, may be more involved with COVID. But we certainly see bad influenzas and pneumonias and we can certainly see loss of sense of taste and smell there. So none of these are 100 percent tried and true." Sore throats were reported in 53 percent of Omicron cases, compared with 34 percent of Delta cases, though British researchers cautioned that people who tested negative for COVID were also reporting sore throats. The most common Omicron symptoms, say the British researchers, are:

  • Runny nose.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sneezing.
  • Sore throat.
Despite its unprecedented transmissibility, Omicron is also considered less likely than Delta and other COVID-19 variant to cause severe illness, hospitalization and death. "The assumption is that Omicron is not dangerous,"  says Dr. Wu. "There's a problem with that, because Omicron is dangerous. We're still seeing people hospitalized, likely for Omicron, and, unfortunately, we're still seeing deaths."