Smell and taste changes are early indicators of the COVID-19 pandemic and political decision effectiveness

Denis Pierron, Veronica Pereda-Loth, Marylou Mantel, Maëlle Moranges, Emmanuelle Bignon, Omar Alva, Julie Kabous, Margit Heiske, Jody Pacalon, Renaud David, Caterina Dinnella, Sara Spinelli, Erminio Monteleone, Michael C. Farruggia, Keiland W. Cooper, Elizabeth A. Sell, Thierry Thomas-Danguin, Alyssa J. Bakke, Valentina Parma, John E. HayesThierry Letellier, Camille Ferdenzi, Jérôme Golebiowski, Moustafa Bensafi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments have taken drastic measures to avoid an overflow of intensive care units. Accurate metrics of disease spread are critical for the reopening strategies. Here, we show that self-reports of smell/taste changes are more closely associated with hospital overload and are earlier markers of the spread of infection of SARS-CoV-2 than current governmental indicators. We also report a decrease in self-reports of new onset smell/taste changes as early as 5 days after lockdown enforcement. Cross-country comparisons demonstrate that countries that adopted the most stringent lockdown measures had faster declines in new reports of smell/taste changes following lockdown than a country that adopted less stringent lockdown measures. We propose that an increase in the incidence of sudden smell and taste change in the general population may be used as an indicator of COVID-19 spread in the population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5152
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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