Chemosensory scientists have been skeptical that reports of COVID-19 taste loss are genuine, in part because before COVID-19 taste loss was rare and often confused with smell loss. Therefore, to establish the predicted prevalence rate of taste loss in COVID-19 patients, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 376 papers published in 2020–2021, with 241 meeting all inclusion criteria. Drawing on previous studies and guided by early meta-analyses, we explored how methodological differences (direct vs. self-report measures) may affect these estimates. We hypothesized that direct measures of taste are at least as sensitive as those obtained by self-report and that the preponderance of evidence confirms taste loss is a symptom of COVID-19. The meta-analysis showed that, among 138,897 COVID-19-positive patients, 39.2% reported taste dysfunction (95% confidence interval: 35.34%–43.12%), and the prevalence estimates were slightly but not significantly higher from studies using direct (n = 18) versus self-report (n = 223) methodologies (Q = 0.57, df = 1, P = 0.45). Generally, males reported lower rates of taste loss than did females, and taste loss was highest among middle-aged adults. Thus, taste loss is likely a bona fide symptom of COVID-19, meriting further research into the most appropriate direct methods to measure it and its underlying mechanisms.

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