Loss of the sense of smell as a symptom of coronavirus?

Fact checking

Darja Miljanić
Headline from media
UNICEF Montenegro
09 April 2020

With the advent of coronavirus, a lot of news came out about the symptoms that accompany it. Specifically, in mid-March of the current year, news about a loss of the ability to smell was published as one of the symptoms of this virus. As most citizens, we were interested in the accuracy of this information, so we decided to examine it.

“Telegraf”, “Nedeljnik”, “Kurir”, Vesti.rs, “Srbija danas”, Informer, BBC, “Nezavisne”, “Alo”, “Objektiv”, “Mondo” and “Krstarica” are just some of the many media outlets in the region that published this news. Judging by the time the information was published, it can be assumed that “Blic” was the first to publish this information.

The text mentions German virologist Hendrick Streeck, Director of the Institute for Virology and HIV/AIDS Research at the University of Bonn’s School of Medicine as the source of this information. In his research, which examined residents from Heinsberg County, North Rhine-Westphalia where there were a large number of infected people, he found that nearly a third of patients complained of a loss of the sense of smell.

Extract from the news article
UNICEF Montenegro

Other media outlets that published this information mostly cited scientists from King’s College London (KCL) as the source. The announcement read that they had received responses from more than 400,000 people through a questionnaire, of which 1,702 said they had been tested for the virus, 579 were positive and 1,123 were negative. Of those who were positive, three-fifths or 59% had lost their sense of smell and taste, but the World Health Organization had not yet included that in the official list of symptoms.

Extract from the news article
UNICEF Montenegro

We asked the Public Health Institute of Montenegro (PHI MNE) whether a sudden loss of the sense of smell was a new symptom of coronavirus infection, as reported in some media.

"Although it is noticed that it is frequently reported in the media that a loss of the sense of smell (known medically as anosmia) is one of the symptoms of the new coronavirus infection, its incidence has not been reported as significant in scientific studies conducted in the affected countries," their response read.

The PHI MNE indicates that the conducted study, which involved the largest number of respondents who are COVID-19 patients, indicated that the most common symptoms of infection were the following:

Table of COVID-19 symptoms - IPH
UNICEF Montenegro

Therefore, we conclude that this information that the loss of the sense of loss is a symptom of this virus is not completely accurate.

In an effort to contribute to preventing the dissemination of coronavirus misinformation and to promoting credible sources of information, UNICEF's young reporters have decided to check the accuracy of information published on social media and in the media that has attracted public attention. In verifying the accuracy of information, they have followed the example of the Public Disclosure Platform and partly used its publicly available methodology.