BRG research suggests a taste test can predict COVID-19 severity

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BATON ROUGE, LA (BRPROUD) – At this point we all know that loss of taste is a symptom of the coronavirus, but did you know that taste can actually play a big a role in how severe your symptoms are?

According to a new study, conducted right here in Baton Rouge, a simple taste test could be the key factor to getting back to normal life.

“The ability to predict the severity of illness is incredible.”

This groundbreaking research in the novel coronavirus was found right here in Baton Rouge.

“I think the beauty of this is that it’s something that wasn’t created. It’s something that was there the whole time. We just happen to have a better understanding of it.”

Baton Rouge General rhinologist Dr. Henry Barham, like many of us, was curious to learn more about this new virus making its way around the globe.

“When COVID first started you know, there were these questions of like why are certain people not getting it, why are some people who are otherwise healthy and young getting it very severely. That’s why we started looking at it in the first place,” Barham said.

That curiosity led him to a simple taste test.

“It’s a taste test, but as we talked about, it’s not really a taste it’s a perception of taste. So, we use these little strips of paper which are coated in stimulants for a certain receptor and based on your expression of this receptor you will perceive it or not perceive it as a taste,” Barham said.

Everyone has these taste receptors and depending on your genetics, how you present those receptors could determine the severity of your symptoms if you catch COVID.

“We tested 2,000 people pre them developing COVID, or contracting COVID, and then followed the whole group to see once they got COVID, did it truly predict how severely they would get it. Obviously there are outliers with everything, but the results were impressive,” Barham said.

The test determines if you are a taster, non-taster or a super-taster.

“It appears to predict the duration and the severity of symptoms to COVID-19. In terms of the average duration in super tasters was about five days. The average duration in non-tasters was 13.5 days and the average duration for non-tasters is 23.7 days. So, a much longer course and much longer severe illness,” Barham said.

Here is how it works:

You get three strips of paper. One at a time you lay it on your tongue and suck on it for about four to five seconds. Then you are asked if you taste sweet, bitter or nothing and if you taste something you rank how strongly you tasted it and rank it from zero to ten.

I did the test and the results indicate that I am a taster with high expression.

“So technically you are in the middle group. You’re a taster with very strong expression,” Barham said.

Turns out the results were once again correct. I contracted COVID-19 a few months ago, and based on my experience, the taste test is accurate. I had mild symptoms and recovered in a little less than a week, keeping right in line with the taste test results.

Dr. Barham is working to expand his research, and hopes it will help with new treatments and vaccination plans.

“With what our data has suggested, I hope that we can get the information out and it can be used effectively to be able to stratify the order of vaccination and improve treatment protocols so that we can return to society,” Barham said.

And it all started right here in our community.

Dr. Barham hopes this test can also change the way we treat other viruses like the flu.

If you would like to help Dr. Barham continue his research, you can donate to the Baton Rouge General Foundation.

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