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Mystery of how long people lose taste and smell from COVID-19

Those aren't the only symptoms that can drag on post-infection.

Loss of taste and smell are two of the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19, but while many people fully recover from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus there are examples of people who are mostly recovered with the exception of waiting to regain their senses. 

"It's a good example of what we've been saying. The effect of this virus on people who may not even have what they consider to be very severe bouts of illness can be long lasting and puzzling and other phenomena can appear weeks or longer down the way," Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Friday. 

The Centers for Disease Control conducted a study over the summer and found that approximately one-third of respondents hadn't returned to normal health within 2-3 weeks of testing positive. Furthermore, the study found that approximately 1 in 5 young adults aged 18-34 hadn't returned to their usual state of health within 2-3 weeks after testing positive. 

But that study didn't focus solely on taste and smell. Early findings from the Mayo Clinic suggested in June that loss of taste and smell "typically lasts nine to 14 days." 

"We know that everyone responds differently. For some people, they have a resumption of taste and smell with their symptoms and then for others it does last much longer," said MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann. 

"Some people will be what they're referring to as 'long haulers' with this and we just don't know who those people are. No one knows if that's who you will be, so that's why we're encouraging people to take this very seriously."

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Centers for Infectious Disease and Research Policy at the University of Minnesota and member of President-elect Joe Biden's COVID-19 advisory panel, said the long haulers condition is a big reason why young, healthy adults don't want to get this virus even if they're confident that they won't end up in the hospital. 

"We're still really exploring the long-term effects of this," Osterholm said Friday. "We're seeing up to 25% of individuals who have mild illness at first, though by weeks 5 or 6 post infection are actually in many cases experiencing very severe chronic fatigue-like symptoms and experience what they call a 'brain fog,' and in many cases are basically disabled at home." 

Osterholm said he knows of cases where a young, healthy adult who had mild illness at first is now bed-ridden at home and receiving oxygen support. 

Again, the big question for anyone who loses taste or smell is how long before they get those senses back. According to the Harvard Health Blog, the olfactory neurons that control those senses are capable of regenerating, though "not everyone will return to his or her pre-COVID level of functioning."

What's more is that the Harvard Health Blog says "some of us might never regain our sense of smell or taste at all."

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