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60% of recovering COVID-19 patients in Japan claimed loss of smell, taste: health ministry

This Aug. 3, 2020 image taken in the city of Nara shows coffee and chocolate, which are among items that individuals commonly claim to be unable to taste or smell after contracting the coronavirus. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kubo)

TOKYO -- Over 60% of COVID-19 patients recovering at hospital or in recuperation facilities in Japan said they experienced a loss of taste or smell, a survey by a health ministry research team has found.

    The survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare targeted 251 individuals who were hospitalized or recuperating at designated facilities after testing positive for the coronavirus. While 61% of those surveyed said they lost their sense of taste or smell, 60% stated that their sense of smell had improved within a month, while 84% said their sense of taste had gotten better within a month.

    A separate study found individuals with symptoms of fatigue and trouble breathing, as well as a decline in their abilities to think and concentrate, even after six months had passed since their diagnosis.

    The results were reported during a meeting of the health ministry's advisory board on June 16.

    According to the final report compiled by the research team of Kanazawa Medical University professor Takaki Miwa, of 251 COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms, or no symptoms, who were either hospitalized or recuperating at accommodation facilities, 37% reported subjective symptoms of a loss of both taste and smell. A total of 20% acknowledged losing only a sense of smell, while 4% complained of losing only a sense of taste.

    Many of the individuals who acknowledged losing a sense of taste reportedly had figures close to normal levels in tests. The research team said it is "highly possible that many cases reported as loss of taste involve impairments in taste which accompany a loss of a sense of smell." The reported symptoms disappeared within a month in over 60% of cases.

    A research team led by Keio University professor Koichi Fukunaga, meanwhile, announced the results of a midterm report on people's awareness of symptoms involving the respiratory system and their mental capacities. The team examined six categories: a sense of fatigue, trouble in breathing, a decline in muscle strength, sleeping disorders, a decline in the ability to think and concentrate, and loss of hair. Over 30% of patients who had subjective symptoms at the time of their discharge from the hospital continued to experience those symptoms six months after their diagnosis. A total of 522 respondents answered the survey at the time of discharge, while 246 individuals responded to the survey six months after their diagnosis.

    According to their study, individuals who were left with an aftereffect of at least one symptom reportedly saw a decline in their quality of life, and had a stronger tendency to complain of anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders. Regardless of whether the symptoms remained or not, about 80% of individuals said they had "returned to their state of health prior to infection" six months after diagnosis.

    Furthermore, the research team of Kochi University professor Akihito Yokoyama, who studies aftereffects on the respiratory system, examined the lung functions of individuals three months after their recovery. The team revealed in its interim report that patients with severe symptoms were susceptible to disorders in pulmonary diffusion, or the ability of the lungs to deliver oxygen to blood vessels.

    (Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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