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COVID-19: Genetic Risk Factor Found For Loss Of Smell, Taste, Researchers Say

COVID-19 Photo Credit: Pixabay/geralt

Researchers are keying in on why some COVID-19 cases led to Americans losing their taste or smell even after ridding the virus from their bodies.

There is a genetic risk factor associated with the loss of smell or taste after a COVID infection, according to a new study published this week in the journal of Nature Genetics.

According to the study, more than 1.5 million Americans were still reporting a lack of smell or taste six months after contracting COVID-19, and while the precise cause of sensory loss is unknown, it is believed that the issue stems from damage to infected cells in the nose called the olfactory epithelium.

Those cells protect olfactory neurons, researchers said, which help humans smell.

The genetic risk factor increases the likelihood that a COVID-19 patient will experience a loss of smell or taste by 11 percent, though some estimate that upwards of 80 percent regain their senses.

“Using online surveys, we collected data regarding COVID-19-related loss of smell or taste from 69,841 individuals,” researchers wrote in the study. “We performed a multi-ancestry genome-wide association study and identified a genome-wide significant locus in the vicinity of the UGT2A1 and UGT2A2 genes.

“Both genes are expressed in the olfactory epithelium and play a role in metabolizing odorants,” they noted. “These findings provide a genetic link to the biological mechanisms underlying COVID-19-related loss of smell or taste.”

Within the group of 69,841 individuals who self-reported receiving a positive Covid test, 68 percent reported a loss of smell or taste as a symptom.

Women were 11 percent more likely than men to experience a loss of senses, while adults between the ages of 26 and 35 made up 73 percent of the focus group.

Researchers noted that some people have a sustained loss of smell, even after the coronavirus leaves their bodies, and how the virus snuffs out sniffing ability could help researchers find ways to bring it back.

The complete data from the study can be found here in the journal of Nature Genetics.

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