Recent Smell Loss Is the Best Predictor of COVID-19 Among Individuals With Recent Respiratory Symptoms



Gerkin RC, Ohla K, Veldhuizen MG, Joseph PV, Kelly CE, Bakke AJ, Steele KE, Farruggia MC, Pellegrino R, Pepino MY, Bouysset C, Soler GM, Pereda-Loth V, Dibattista M & Roberts SC (2021) Recent Smell Loss Is the Best Predictor of COVID-19 Among Individuals With Recent Respiratory Symptoms. Chemical Senses, 46, Art. No.: bjaa081.

In a preregistered, cross-sectional study, we investigated whether olfactory loss is a reliable predictor of COVID-19 using a crowdsourced questionnaire in 23 languages to assess symptoms in individuals self-reporting recent respiratory illness. We quantified changes in chemosensory abilities during the course of the respiratory illness using 0–100 visual analog scales (VAS) for participants reporting a positive (C19+; n = 4148) or negative (C19−; n = 546) COVID-19 laboratory test outcome. Logistic regression models identified univariate and multivariate predictors of COVID-19 status and post-COVID-19 olfactory recovery. Both C19+ and C19− groups exhibited smell loss, but it was significantly larger in C19+ participants (mean ± SD, C19+: −82.5 ± 27.2 points; C19−: −59.8 ± 37.7). Smell loss during illness was the best predictor of COVID-19 in both univariate and multivariate models (ROC AUC = 0.72). Additional variables provide negligible model improvement. VAS ratings of smell loss were more predictive than binary chemosensory yes/no-questions or other cardinal symptoms (e.g., fever). Olfactory recovery within 40 days of respiratory symptom onset was reported for ~50% of participants and was best predicted by time since respiratory symptom onset. We find that quantified smell loss is the best predictor of COVID-19 amongst those with symptoms of respiratory illness. To aid clinicians and contact tracers in identifying individuals with a high likelihood of having COVID-19, we propose a novel 0–10 scale to screen for recent olfactory loss, the ODoR-19. We find that numeric ratings ≤2 indicate high odds of symptomatic COVID-19 (4 < OR < 10). Once independently validated, this tool could be deployed when viral lab tests are impractical or unavailable.

anosmia; chemosensory; coronavirus; hyposmia; olfactory; prediction

Additional co-authors: Keiland W Cooper, Ilja Croijmans, Antonella Di Pizio, Mehmet Hakan Ozdener, Alexander W Fjaeldstad, Cailu Lin, Mari A Sandell, Preet B Singh, V Evelyn Brindha, Shannon B Olsson, Luis R Saraiva, Gaurav Ahuja, Mohammed K Alwashahi, Surabhi Bhutani, Anna D’Errico, Marco A Fornazieri, Jérôme Golebiowski, Liang Dar Hwang, Lina Öztürk, Eugeni Roura, Sara Spinelli, Katherine L Whitcroft, Farhoud Faraji, Florian Ph S Fischmeister, Thomas Heinbockel, Julien W Hsieh, Caroline Huart, Iordanis Konstantinidis, Anna Menini, Gabriella Morini, Jonas K Olofsson, Carl M Philpott, Denis Pierron, Vonnie D C Shields, Vera V Voznessenskaya, Javier Albayay, Aytug Altundag, Moustafa Bensafi, María Adelaida Bock, Orietta Calcinoni, William Fredborg, Christophe Laudamiel, Juyun Lim, Johan N Lundström, Alberto Macchi, Pablo Meyer, Shima T Moein, Enrique Santamaría, Debarka Sengupta, Paloma Rohlfs Dominguez, Hüseyin Yanik, Thomas Hummel, John E Hayes, Danielle R Reed, Masha Y Niv, Steven D Munger, Valentina Parma, GCCR Group Author

Chemical Senses: Volume 46

FundersNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Nursing Research, Office of Workforce Diversity, National Institutes of Health, Rockefeller University, Institute of Ecology and Evolution Russian Academy of Sciences and Israel Science Foundation
Publication date31/12/2021
Publication date online25/12/2020
Date accepted by journal17/12/2020
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)

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Professor Craig Roberts

Professor Craig Roberts

Professor of Social Psychology, Psychology