Harvard scientists reveal why coronavirus causes loss of smell [Video]


  • One of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 is the temporary loss of smell, or anosmia, along with other well-known symptoms such as fever and cough.
  • Previously, the loss of smell in COVID-19 patients has been unclear.
  • Now, Harvard Medical School neuroscientists have found that the olfactory cell types in the upper nasal cavity are the most vulnerable to infection by the novel coronavirus.

A study published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal “Science Advance,” reveals why some people infected with the coronavirus lose their sense of smell.

The symptom, called “anosmia” by the researchers at Harvard Medical School, is one of the earliest and most commonly reported indicators of COVID-19.

Anosmia, previous studies suggest, could actually be a better way to predict whether someone has the coronavirus than other most commonly known symptoms like fever and cough.

Scientists wondered exactly how some people with COVID-19 were being robbed of their senses.

The Harvard neuroscientists conducted research to better understand how smell is altered in coronavirus patients by pinpointing the cell types most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

After analyzing various datasets, they discovered that it attacks cells that support the olfactory sensory neurons, which detect and transmit the sense of smell to the brain.

“Our findings indicate that the novel coronavirus changes the sense of smell in patients not by directly infecting neurons but by affecting the function of supporting cells,” said Sandeep Robert Datta, a neurobiology professor at Harvard Medical School and co-author on the paper.

The scientists added that the virus is unlikely to cause permanent damage to olfactory neural circuits, meaning anosmia is only temporary and patients can recover their sense of smell.

“I think it’s good news, because once the infection clears, olfactory neurons don’t appear to need to be replaced or rebuilt from scratch,” Datta said in a statement.

But, he added, “we need more data and a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms to confirm this conclusion.”

Source: New York Post

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