Some people who lose their sense of taste or smell due to a COVID-19 infection may have an easier time fighting off the virus in the future, a new study suggests.
For the study, conducted in 2020 at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical center in New York City, scientists tested 266 people for antibodies to COVID-19 at least two weeks after their symptoms were mostly gone and they no longer showed signs of active infection. None of the subjects had experienced severe cases, or had any signs of acute infection when they were tested for antibodies, and they had no lingering symptoms other than a potential loss of taste or smell.
Overall, almost two-thirds of participants reported either an impaired sense of smell or taste, and 58 percent said both senses were altered by the virus.
Compared with people who never lost their sense of taste or smell, those who did were roughly twice as likely to test positive for virus-fighting antibodies, the researchers reported in the journal PLoS One.
Fever, Cough, Runny Nose Were Not Linked to Antibody Protection
Other COVID-19 symptoms that were predominant in 2020, such as fever, cough, sneezing, runny nose, and difficulty breathing didn’t appear to influence whether people had antibodies after they recovered from an acute infection.
This suggests that loss of taste and smell are strong predictors of a longer-lasting ability to fight the virus, the study team concluded.
One limitation of study, the researchers noted, is that they relied on patients to accurately recall and report on whether they lost their sense of taste or smell when they were sick. Another drawback is that it’s possible some people only reported a loss of taste because their sense of smell was altered, compromising their ability to distinguish different flavors in the food they ate.
The study also wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether the loss of taste and smell directly causes higher antibody levels — or that it always helps prevent future infections.
Do Antibodies Really Help Prevent COVID-19 Reinfection?
Despite the study’s limitations, it does jibe with other research that found a link between the presence of antibodies after a bout of COVID-19 and a lower risk of reinfection.
One study published in 2021 found that people with negative antibody tests were 10 times more likely to get a second COVID-19 infection after three months. Another study published in 2021 followed individuals from three to six months after a mild COVID-19 infection and found that not one person with antibodies got reinfected — and that nearly all of these people retained high levels of antibodies after six months.
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