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Olfactory and taste disorder: The first and only sign in a patient with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2020

Youngeun Jang
Affiliation:
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital, Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Hyo-Ju Son
Affiliation:
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital, Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Seungjae Lee
Affiliation:
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital, Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Eun Jung Lee
Affiliation:
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital, Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Tae Hyong Kim
Affiliation:
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital, Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Se Yoon Park*
Affiliation:
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital, Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea
*
Author for correspondence: Se Yoon Park, E-mail: sypark@schmc.ac.kr
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Abstract

Type
Letter to the Editor
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Copyright
© 2020 by The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. All rights reserved.

To the Editor—Severe acute respiratory syndrome corona virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), first reported in Wuhan City of Hubei Province of China, has now rapidly spread throughout the world.1 Genome sequencing showed that the causal agent of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a β-coronavirus belonging to subgenus of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) viruses but a different clade.Reference Lu, Zhao and Li2 Common clinical manifestations include fever, cough, fatigue, dyspnea, and myalgia or arthralgia.Reference Guan, Ni and Hu3 Recently, Giacomelli et alReference Giacomelli, Pezzati and Conti4 reported that 20 of 59 (33.9%) of SARS-CoV-2–positive hospitalized patients had an olfactory or taste disorder.Reference Giacomelli, Pezzati and Conti4 SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted in the asymptomatic or paucisymptomatic stages; therefore, olfactory and taste disorders can be significant signs for its early detection to control transmission. We found that olfactory and taste disorders can be the first and only signs of COVID-19 pneumonia.

A 42-year-old man was admitted to the Soonchunhyang University Seoul Hospital in the Republic of Korea (ROK) for isolation and care for COVID-19 on March 26, 2020. He had been self-quarantined for 14 days since March 12 due to close contact with a confirmed SARS-CoV-2–positive patient, who was his cohabitant. In ROK, close contacts are tested for SARS-CoV-2 after 14 days of quarantine to exclude asymptomatic infections. Although he had no clinical symptoms or signs of COVID-19 such as fever, myalgia, cough, and sore throat, on March 26 (the final day of his quarantine) he was confirmed positive based on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test (Rdrp gene, cycle threshold value of 30.28 on sputum and 33.47 on nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swab). The governmental investigation team considered this an asymptomatic infection. However, the patient had developed problems with smell and taste simultaneously on March 14, after 2 days of quarantine. He did not have rhinorrhea or nasal obstruction but complained of a metallic taste in his mouth. The symptoms persisted for >2 weeks. We graded the olfactory and taste disorder on a visual analog scale of 0 to 10 (0 anosmia and 10 no olfactory or taste disorder). On quarantine day 3 (March 14), he had grade 5 symptoms, which improved by quarantine day 14 (March 26). On day 4 of hospitalization, we performed chest computed tomography (CT), which showed unilateral patchy or nodular ground-glass opacities and airspace consolidations in the right-middle and right-lower lobes.

This case of a SARS-CoV-2–positive patient with radiologically proven pneumonia on chest CT, who presented with only olfactory and taste disorders and no other clinical manifestations, suggests that previous cases with asymptomatic infections could have been misclassified. Considering the viral load in our patient, which was measured after 14 days of quarantine, SARS-CoV-2–positive patients, even when paucisymptomatic, could have relatively high viral titers, which could contribute to the rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2.Reference Zou, Ruan and Huang5,Reference Rothe, Schunk and Sothmann6 Moreover, because transmission can occur in the early course of infection, identification of such initial symptoms can help with the early detection of SARS-CoV-2. With this report, we emphasize the necessity for more intensive screening criteria for SARS-CoV-2 infections to ensure their appropriate identification and the prompt quarantine of suspected patients to help prevent the transmission of this virus.

Acknowledgments

We thank all of our colleagues and staff of our hospital who devoted their time and expertise to make Soonchunhyang University Seoul hospital safer during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Financial support

No financial support was provided relevant to this article.

Conflicts of interest

All authors report no conflicts of interest relevant to this article.

References

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation reports. World Health Organization website. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports. Published 2020. Accessed April 9, 2020.Google Scholar
Lu, R, Zhao, X, Li, J, et al.Genomic characteristics and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor blinding. Lancet 2020;22;395:565574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guan, WJ, Ni, ZY, Hu, Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of coronavirus disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med 2020 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2002032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Giacomelli, A, Pezzati, L, Conti, F, et al. Self-reported olfactory and taste disorders in SARS- CoV-2 patients: a cross-sectional study. Clin Infect Dis 2020 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zou, L, Ruan, F, Huang, M, et al.SARS-CoV-2 viral load in upper respiratory specimens of infected patients. N Eng J Med 2020;382:11771179.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rothe, C, Schunk, M, Sothmann, P, et al.Transmission of 2019-nCoV infection from an asymptomatic contact in Germany. N Engl J Med 2020;382:970971.10.1056/NEJMc2001468CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
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