Can Covid Research Help Solve the Mysteries of Other Viruses?

Can Covid Research Help Solve the Mysteries of Other Viruses?


Barie Carmichael lost her sense of taste and smell while traveling in Europe. She remembers having dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant but trying nothing.

It may sound like a case of COVID-19. Carmichael, 72, a fellow at the University of Virginia Business School, lost her ability to taste and smell for three years in the 1990s. The only respiratory infection she had was bronchitis.

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Barie Carmichael lost her sense of taste and smell while traveling in Europe. She remembers having dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant but trying nothing.

It may sound like a case of COVID-19. Carmichael, 72, a fellow at the University of Virginia Business School, lost her ability to taste and smell for three years in the 1990s. The only respiratory infection she had was bronchitis.

Scientists say that while the complications of COVID have caught people’s attention, many symptoms – like a loss of smell – are not unique to COVID. Heart inflammation, lung and nerve damage, and small blood clots in the lining of the lungs occur in a small but noticeable percentage of people who have had other respiratory and viral infections.

Nobody says COVID is like the flu, for example. However, COVID-19 offers a new way to understand the complications of many common viral infections.

Prior to the pandemic, research grants to study odor loss were hard to come by, said Danielle Reed, assistant director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit research group.

But now, she said, “donor interest is growing explosively.” (She added that most of those who say they lost their sense of taste really lost their sense of smell.)

Monell researchers want to compare how often people lose their sense of smell after a flu attack compared to a COVID-19 attack – and how long the loss lasts. Is there a genetic predisposition for this complication?

Researchers at other institutions want to know who is susceptible to heart infections, blood clots, or lung damage after a respiratory virus like the flu.

Heart problems after a viral infection are among the best-studied. Up to 1.5 million people worldwide are affected by myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – each year, most of whom have previously had a respiratory virus infection. Most recover completely.

However, symptoms such as fatigue are often not recognized as being associated with myocarditis. And dr. Bruce McManus, Professor Emeritus of Pathology at the University of British Columbia, suggests that the fatigue that sometimes follows a battle with COVID-19 could be caused by this heart problem.

“We view COVID-19 and influenza as respiratory diseases, and indeed they are,” McManus said. “But the reason many patients die in many cases is because of the myocardium.”

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