J Neurol Sci. 2020 Aug 26;418:117107. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2020.117107. Online ahead of print.
Anosmia has been recognized as a prevalent and early symptom by many COVID-19 patients. However, most researchers have recorded smell dysfunction solely as present or absent and based on subjective evaluation by patients. We described the results of 57 consecutive COVID-19 patients seen at FIOCRUZ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from April to May 2020. Data about the presence of smell loss, the onset of smell loss and other COVID-19 symptoms such as ageusia and nasal congestion or rhinorrhea were recorded. All patients at the initial consultation and 34 healthy controls underwent the Q-SIT, which is a quick disposable three-item smell identification test, by a trained physician. We compared three groups: healthy controls, COVID+ patients with reported smell loss (COVID w/ SL) and COVID+ patients without smell loss (COVID+ w/o SL). The mean age of patients was 41.4 years (SD ± 10.4), and 54.4% were women. Smell loss was reported by 40.4% of COVID-19 patients. We observed a gradual effect with higher Q-SIT scores in healthy controls, followed by COVID+ w/o SL and COVID+ w/ SL (medians = 3, 2 and 0; respectively, p < 0.001). Anosmia or severe microsmia (Q-SIT≤1) was present in 11.1% (CI: 3.1%-26.1%) of controls, 32.4% (CI: 17.4%-50.5%) of COVID-19 w/o SL and 87% (CI: 66.4%-97.2%) of COVID+ w/ SL (p < 0.001). This study provides evidence that olfactory dysfunction in COVID-19 is common and more prevalent than what is perceived by patients. Q-SIT is a quick and reliable screening test for the detection of smell dysfunction during the pandemics.