This Is the Tell-Tale Sign You've Already Had COVID, According to a Doctor

An infectious disease doctor points to this unusual symptom as a major clue you silently had coronavirus.

Studies show that as many as 45 percent of people with coronavirus never have any symptoms, leaving many of us to wonder whether or not we silently battled COVID-19. Of course, you don't need us to tell you that the obvious way to determine if you've had the coronavirus is by getting an antibody test. But considering the questions surrounding their accuracy, you might be looking for other signs, too. According to Thomas Russo, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, there's one subtle symptom above all others that points to COVID-19: the loss of taste and smell.

The presence of this symptom is what the doctor would call a "high probability" for COVID-19. "That lost taste and smell—while it's not absolutely unique—it's somewhat unique to this new coronavirus," Russo says.

In fact, the symptom is such a telling indicator that he would be inclined to trust it as a sign of the disease even more than test results. "Even if [patients with these symptoms] went out and got a test for acute infection and it was negative, I would say it's probably a false negative, because those tests are far from 100 percent sensitive," Russo says.

Woman trying to smell a cup of coffee

If you had this sensory symptom in combination with others—especially fever, fatigue, and headaches—Russo would say it's a likely bet you had the virus. "If you really have a clinical syndrome that's highly suggestive, [such as] that combination of symptoms, but weren't tested, that would suggest that you're probably infected," he says.

According to recent research, the loss of taste and smell are also symptoms that persist among COVID-19 patients. Scientific American reports that some patients have been left without their sense of smell for 30 days or more. And Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert, the first professional athlete to test positive for COVID-19 in early March, recently said that his "taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100 percent," noting he was told by doctors that it could take a year to come back fully.

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Russo points out that even if you did lose your sense of taste and smell and you're pretty sure you did have COVID-19 at some point, that doesn't mean you should behave as if you're protected by a magical force field of coronavirus immunity.

"We don't know exactly the degree of protection that prior infection will afford," he says. "People who have had prior infections should still follow the public health rules because there still is a small but finite—and, at this point, I'd say theoretical—chance that they might have incomplete protection." To see what else certain coronavirus symptoms could indicate, check out If You Have This COVID Symptom, You Likely Won't End Up in the Hospital.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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