Since studies show that around 45% of people with the coronavirus are asymptomatic or never manifest any symptoms, you might find yourself wondering if you’ve already unknowingly battled with COVID-19.
Of course, the obvious way to check if you have the COVID-19 virus would be to take an antibody test, but considering that they aren’t always accurate, you might want to look for other signs, too.
Thomas Russo, MD, is the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo. According to him, the symptom that points to COVID-19 most is the loss of taste and smell.
If this symptom is present in an individual, the doctor believes that there’s 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 an obvious indicator of the virus, that he sees it more as a sign of the disease 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.
According to him, if you experience the loss of taste and smell in combination with other symptoms — especially fever, fatigue, and headaches, Russo would say that it’s likely you already have 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 research, the loss of taste and smell are symptoms that persist among COVID-19 patients. Scientific American reported that some patients even lost their sense of smell for 30 days or more.
Additionally, Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert, who was the first professional athlete to test positive for COVID-19, also said that his “taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100 percent.” He also noted that his doctors said it could take a year to come back fully.
Russo thought it important to point out that even if you lose your sense of taste and smell and you’re almost 100% sure that you had COVID-19 at some point, you shouldn’t behave as if you’ve gained immunity from the coronavirus.
“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.”