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UEA researcher finds link that large proportion of NHS staff may have had coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 23:31 06 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:11 07 August 2020

Professor Carl Philpott. Picture: UEA

Professor Carl Philpott. Picture: UEA

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A Norwich academic research is extending his work into Norfolk hospitals after finding around two-thirds of healthcare workers may already have been infected with coronavirus.

Carl Philpott who runs the smell and taste clinic at the Norwich Medical School at the UEA.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYCarl Philpott who runs the smell and taste clinic at the Norwich Medical School at the UEA. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Professor Carl Philpott, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, has been carrying out work into anosmia, or loss of smell.

In April, 262 healthcare workers at London’s Barts Health NHS Trust – one of the largest NHS trusts in the UK - took part in a questionnaire.

At this time, anosmia was not yet listed as an official symptom and Covid-19 testing among NHS workers but the research found 73 of the participants had been tested for Covid-19, with 56, or 76.7pc, receiving a positive diagnosis.

Public Health England added loss of taste or smell to the list of coronavirus symptoms in May and guidance at the time said staff who only had anosmia as a symptom would not have been required to isolate or be eligible for testing.

Carl Philpott who runs the smell and taste clinic at the Norwich Medical School at the UEA.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYCarl Philpott who runs the smell and taste clinic at the Norwich Medical School at the UEA. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Professor Philpott said: “In many cases smell loss can be the only symptom of Covid-19, or accompanied by mild symptoms. We wanted to find out how widespread smell loss has been among healthcare workers.

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“The really interesting thing that we found was that 168 of the participants – nearly two thirds – said that they had lost their sense of smell or taste at some point between mid-February and mid-April.

“We also found a strong association between smell loss and the positive Covid-19 test results, with those who had lost their sense of smell being almost five times more likely to test positive.”

The professor, who worked in collaboration with University College London, carried out a follow-up survey in May, in which 47pc of respondents reported that their sense of smell and taste had completely recovered.

A further 42pc said they had partially recovered their sense of smell and taste, but just over 7pc still suffered anosmia.

The survey is also running at the James Paget University Hospital and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital along with two hospitals in the North West.

Professor Philpott added: “This suggests that a large proportion of healthcare workers may have already been infected with Covid-19, with only mild symptoms.

“Cases like this most likely went undiagnosed at the time because of a lack of awareness about smell loss as a symptom.

“There is a need for awareness and early recognition of anosmia as a means to identify, urgently test and isolate affected healthcare workers in order to prevent further spread of disease.”


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