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TASTE test could predict how severely ill COVID-19 patients become

Could a TASTE test predict who will get severely ill from coronavirus? Patients who can’t detect bitter flavors are at higher risk for being hospitalized

  • Researchers had people who previously tested positive for coronavirus perform taste tests with slips of paper
  • Non-tasters, who couldn’t detect certain bitter flavors, were at highest risk for developing more severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization
  • Another group, super tasters, who could pick up tiny quantities of bitter flavors was found most likely to be asymptomatic
  • The remaining are the mostly likely to develop mild to moderate symptoms and not require hospitalization

A taste test may be able to predict how ill patients will become if they are infected with the novel coronavirus, a new study suggests.

Researchers found a link between how well a person can taste some bitter flavors and the capability of battling upper and lower respiratory tract infections.

People unable to detect certain bitter flavors were at the highest risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and needing to be hospitalized.

The team, from Baton Rouge General, in Louisiana, says the test could help identify at-risk populations and help them ‘make more informed choices about where they go and how they interact with others.’

A new study from Baton Rouge General, in Louisiana, found people who couldn’t detect certain bitter flavors were at the highest risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization. Pictured: People swab their mouths at a coronavirus testing site in Los Angeles, California, September 4

‘As we now know, a new loss of taste and smell are hallmark symptoms of COVID-19,’ Dr Henry Barham, a rhinologist at Baton Rouge General, said in a statement. 

‘That connection prompted us to take a closer look at how a person’s taste receptors relate to their body’s immune response to COVID.’ 

There are five taste receptors, which facilitate the sensation of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.

Previous research has found an association between these receptors and how a person responds to sinus and respiratory infections.  

A 2012 study found that bacteria compounds activate sweet taste receptors in the sinuses, which allows infections to seed.

Additionally, a 2015 study found that having a diverse amount of bitter taste receptors plays a role in infection susceptibility. 

However, Barham says his study is the first to detail how certain taste receptors can reveal what kind of immunity someone has to coronavirus.   

For the new study, published in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, the team recruited patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered.

All of them were given four tiny strips of paper one at a time and asked if it tasted bitter or sweet, or if it didn’t taste like anything.

The participants were also asked to report how intense the taste was, such as very bitter of mildly bitter. 

Depending on their answers, the patients were placed in one of three groups: non-tasters, super-tasters, or tasters.

Non-tasters, making up 25 percent of the total, were unable to detect certain bitter flavor, putting them at the highest risk for more severe symptoms and hospitalization.   

Super-tasters, also making up 25 percent, can pick up very small quantities of bitter flavors and is most likely to be asymptomatic. 

Meanwhile the remainder, classified as tasters, are likely to have mild to moderate symptoms not requiring hospitalization.

The researchers say the findings could help doctors better understand why people are affected differently by the virus and allow that at high risk to make more informed decisions about how to best protect themselves.

Additionally, it could help identify asymptomatic people so they can isolate and not spread the virus. 

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