"I had Covid-19 and now all food tastes rotten and smells the same as urine"

A Covid victim says the disease has scrambled her senses so coffee now smells like car fumes, toothpaste tastes like petrol and chocolate is too disgusting to stomach.

Monday, 28th December 2020, 12:30 pm

Sarah Govier, 44, caught the virus in May and like many others lost her sense of smell.

But months after it came back she was struck by a bizarre new symptom - a total distortion of her sense of smell and taste.

The mum-of-two said nearly "all food smells rotten" and she's lost weight because she can barely bring herself to eat some of her favourite meals.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sarah Govier

She likens the taste of meat to floral soap or perfume, toothpaste tastes more like petrol than mint, and coffee has an odour of car fumes or cigarette smoke.

Garlic and onions reminds her of a mix of wet dog and stagnant water, while chocolate cake tastes so bad she has to spit it out.

The medical name for her symptoms is 'parosmia', and sufferers have even likened their once sweet-smelling perfumes and shampoo to bile.

Doctors have found people with Covid-19 lose their sense of smell because the virus damages the receptor nerve endings or supporting cells within their nose.

These scent-detecting nerve endings tell your brain how to interpret the chemical information that makes up a smell, and when damaged or heal incorrectly can lead to parosmia.

Sarah, an occupational therapist from Whitstable, Kent, has set up a Facebook support group where members share experiences, theories and 'smell training' tips.

She said: "Coffee tasted horrible and cleaning my teeth with toothpaste felt like brushing them with petrol - it was vile!

"At first, everything smelt basically the same, so coffee smelt the same as if someone was smoking or like car fumes.

"Garlic and onions smelt awful - I can't even describe it, and because they're in basically every recipe or ready meal it made cooking very challenging!

"If I went into someone's house and they were cooking I would smell a mixture of wet dog and rancid water - everything just stank like mould!

"I was having to sniff things before I ate them and it felt quite feral, like a weird kind of animal!

"The aftertaste was often just as bad as I could taste that horrible smell, and it would also linger in the kitchen for days.

"I even had to spit out chocolate!"

Sarah said colleagues at William Harvey Hospital tested positive in April, but she didn't have the classic symptoms of a cough and high temperature.

But one day she came home totally exhausted and developed a sore throat, so stayed off work and booked a test on May 2.

Whilst her husband Jim, 47, and kids Jake, 11, and Daniel, eight, didn't get symptoms, the afternoon after her test, Sarah lost her senses of taste and smell.

"I was cooking a curry and one minute I could smell it, but when I went to taste it I couldn't taste anything!" she said.

"I ran upstairs and sprayed some perfume on my wrist, but I couldn't smell anything and that was when I knew I had it so I just started crying."

She got a positive test result a few days later and lost her senses of taste and smell for five or six weeks.

It then returned for around six weeks again, before she noticed a problem.

She went out for a fry up with a friend in August and realised everything tasted very salty, and the meat was "almost floral, like soap or perfume".

She added: "Gradually over a few days things just started selling awful, but it's very hard to describe because it doesn't smell like anything you've ever smelt before!

"Food shopping became a nightmare because I had no motivation to do any cooking."

She's still able to eat cheese and fish, as well as her favourite food of avocados with prawn cocktail, but is worried she'll get bored.

She can also have potatoes, pasta, rice and porridge, but has also started eating meal replacement milkshakes for a bit of variety.

She said: "I was 10 stone in August which is the heaviest I had been in a long time, but within a couple of weeks of developing my parosmia I lost half a stone just because I wasn't eating."

Her altered sense of smell means she is also hypersensitive to the pong of sweat and urine - which stink more than ever.

"I can also smell sweat really strongly in situations where you wouldn't normally notice, like just when I get a bit hot from walking the kids to school," she said.

"A small bit of perspiration in my clothes smells like rotten cabbage, and when you can smell yourself all the time you get really paranoid.

"I'm constantly smelling myself and asking people if I stink- I haven't wanted to exercise because of the horrible smell of sweating!"

Sarah posted her symptoms on a COVID support group and discovered that she wasn't alone.

She was then inspired to create her Facebook group called 'Covid Anosmia/Parosmia Support Group', which now has more than 4,000 members from all over the world.

She said: "People come on and thank me and can't believe they're not the only ones!

"There's been some parents who are miserable because they couldn't smell their newborn baby.

"I don't know what Christmas dinner is going to be like for me - might have to eat my prawn cocktail, or push the boat out and get a lobster!"

Some sufferers have tried re-training their brain with 'smell training' - putting essential oils on bits of paper and smelling them about twice a day.

She said: "It can feel quite lonely as it really affects you pretty much all day every day.

"So many celebrations and social events revolve around eating or going out to a restaurant, so right now there's part of me that's grateful for the restrictions stopping all that!"

It is thanks to our loyal readers that we can continue to provide the trusted news, analysis and insight that matters to you. For unlimited access to our unrivalled local reporting, you can take out a subscription here and help support the work of our dedicated team of reporters.