Virologist Marc Van Ranst about new corona research: ‘The loss of smell is like the flat tyre of a car’

Loss of smell is one of the well-known symptoms after a corona infection. A study has now shown why the loss of smell is temporary in most cases. Flemish doctors have discovered this in a study with the German Max Planck Research Unit for Neurogenetics.                               

Until recently, it was thought that the loss of smell had something to do with our olfactory nerves. A study by UZ Leuven and AZ Sint-Jan Brugge-Oostende AV in collaboration with the German Max Planck Research Unit for Neurogenetics proves us wrong. It shows us that the coronavirus affects our support cells in our olfactory mucosa and not our olfactory nerves. At present, little is known about these supporting cells because not much research has been done on them. They carried out tests on the olfactory organs of people who died as a result of corona. 

New cells                                            

So it comes down to the fact that when you are infected with corona and you have loss of smell, the virus has affected certain cells in the nose. These cells will in most cases be replaced by new ones. When this happens, you will be able to smell again.                      

A car with a flat tyre                           

Marc Van Ranst, a Belgian Virologist, says: ‘In most people, these cells will be replaced spontaneously. Then there is no problem and your smell will come back. A good analogy is that of a car with a flat tyre. There is nothing wrong with the engine but still you cannot drive. When the tyre is changed, you can drive again. It is the same with our smell.’                   

According to Van Ranst, this is important and hopeful news for people with taste and smell loss. ‘We now understand why our sense of smell comes back in the majority of cases. We still have to find out why it doesn’t come back in the minority.’                 

Text, photo: © Kylie Vanderhulst, final editor: Andrei Stiru