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Study links loss of taste, smell from COVID to genetics

Virus Outbreak France Deadened Senses
Posted at 1:12 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 16:12:07-05

If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you probably know someone who lost their sense of taste or smell from COVID-19.

“This virus has receptors including the ACE-2 that it binds to. And the ACE-2 receptor is particularly found in the olfactory epithelium, which are the areas the cells in the nose, deep inside the nose where the sense of smell fibers descend down from the brain,” said Dr. Carol Yan, a Rhinologist at UC San Diego.

She has been working with patients who have a loss of taste and smell from COVID-19.

“We’ve known for many years that all viruses have the potential to cause smell loss, and it is, in particular with this virus, that we’ve seen a much higher incidence of smell and taste loss,” said Dr. Yan.

We haven’t known until recently that the loss of smell, at least in the case of COVID, might be tied to your genetics.

“We compared people who had COVID-19 who did have a loss of smell versus people who didn’t, and we found a very clear genetic association with that particular symptom,” said Janie Shelton, an epidemiologist with 23&Me.

In a recent study, the company claims it can identify the genetic trait linked to the loss of smell in COVID patients.

“When we looked across all the chromosomes in the genome, we saw one really particular region in the genome that appeared to be strongly associated with loss of smell and so that region of the genome governs the expression of enzymes in your nose that clear smells out of your nose,” Shelton said.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering which types of people have this trait. But Shelton says it’s not that simple.

“What we saw was that this was relevant across all the different race-ethnic groups that we had in our sample,” said Shelton.

So, anyone can have this genetic trait. They still don’t know what may cause long-term loss of smell in people.

“Those people, you know we don’t really know why they specifically haven’t recovered and whether or not there’s a genetic component to that an immuno component or something different,” said Dr. Yan.

But 23&Me is looking into that next.

“Of the people who reported COVID to us, we went back and asked them to fill out another web-based survey about whether or not they’ve had symptoms of long COVID,” said Shelton.

Hoping to uncover more answers for the people suffering from long-term symptoms.