Well-Being Medical Advances

Researchers find genetic link to COVID-19-induced loss of smell and taste

Story at a glance

  • A new study suggests there is a genetic factor that increases the odds of someone losing their sense of smell or taste after getting COVID-19.
  • Researchers analyzed data from close to 70,000 people for the study.
  • Although more research is needed, the study’s findings might help scientists better understand why some people who contract the virus lose one or both senses.

Scientists are potentially one step closer to understanding why some people lose their sense of smell or taste after contracting COVID-19.  

A team of researchers has identified a genetic risk factor that increased the odds a person would lose their sense of smell or taste after a COVID-19 infection by 11 percent, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Genetics. 

Researchers believe the culprit is a locus, or a particular place of a gene on a chromosome, located near two olfactory genes linked to COVID-19-related loss of taste and smell.  

The loss of smell and or taste is a common early symptom of a COVID-19 infection, with one study claiming that up to over a million people have lost their sense of smell for six months or more after contracting the virus. 


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Researchers collected data from the genetic testing company 23andMe, of nearly 70,000 adults who self-reported testing positive for the virus, the study says.  

Although the study’s findings provide an important insight into what could be causing COVID-19-induced smell and taste loss, researchers noted the study has limitations.  

Researchers note that the study is biased toward people of European ancestry and loss of smell or taste were combined in a single survey question.  

“Loss of smell without loss of taste may be distinct from loss of both or loss of taste without loss of smell,” the study says. “Given this, it is unclear if our findings relate more strongly to one symptom or the other.”  


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