HealthDay News — Depression and anxiety exhibited in COVID-19 patients may be a sign that the virus impacts the central nervous system, as these symptoms are closely associated with a loss of smell and taste rather than more severe manifestations of the virus, according to a study published online July 2 in The Laryngoscope.

Marlene M. Speth, M.D., from Kantonsspital Aarau in Switzerland, and colleagues conducted a prospective, cross-sectional telephone questionnaire study to evaluate the existence and severity of symptoms exhibited by 114 COVID-19 positive patients. Two questionnaires were used to measure depression and anxiety levels among participants, both before and after COVID-19 diagnosis. The authors also assessed the severity of loss of smell or taste, nasal obstruction, excessive mucus production, fever, cough, and shortness of breath among participants during COVID-19 infection. Their objective was to determine if depression and anxiety symptoms among COVID-19 patients are linked to other disease characteristics.

The researchers found that depression and anxiety were most closely associated with a loss of smell and taste rather than the more severe symptoms of COVID-19, like shortness of breath, fever, and cough, which are more likely to be a sign of severe illness or death. The association between these psychological symptoms and loss of smell and taste may indicate a novel conclusion: Depression and anxiety in COVID-19 patients is a sign that the virus is affecting the central nervous system.

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“These symptoms of psychological distress, such as depressed mood and anxiety, are central nervous system symptoms if they are associated only with how diminished is your sense of smell,” a coauthor said in a statement. “This may indicate that the virus is infecting olfactory neurons, decreasing the sense of smell, and then using the olfactory tract to enter the central nervous symptom.”

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