Open Accessibility Menu

Simple Taste Test Can Predict COVID-19 Outcomes and Severity

  • Category: Coronavirus, News
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Results from a new study at Baton Rouge General (BRG) confirm early research suggesting a connection between a person’s ability to perceive certain bitter stimulants and the symptoms and severity of their COVID-19 infection. The results of the study, currently under peer review for publication, could help identify people at higher risk of contracting and experiencing severe symptoms of COVID.

“Like the rest of the world, I had interest in why certain people contracted the virus and other didn’t despite seemingly high exposure to it,” said rhinologist Dr. Henry Barham. “We intentionally studied hospital workers with known increased exposure to COVID. The questions we set out to answer were who can get it and how severe would their symptoms be.”

A key finding of the study, from Dr. Barham, Dr. Christian A. Hall and Dr. Mohamed A. Taha, is that people classified as “non-tasters” were significantly more likely to be hospitalized once infected. On the other hand, none of the participants considered “super-tasters” were hospitalized when infected with COVID. Non-tasters were significantly more likely to experience symptoms for a longer period of time – an average of 23 days -- compared to just five days for super-tasters. And, non-tasters were significantly more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

“The results carry important implications, like allowing people at high risk to make more informed choices and potentially prioritizing vaccination administration,” Dr. Barham said.

The perception of taste, influenced by taste receptors, is known to impact a person’s response to respiratory infections and sinus infections. But Dr. Barham is the first to apply that connection to COVID-19. His initial study was retrospective, meaning it looked at patients who had previously tested positive for the coronavirus. In the new study, participants were given the taste test, tested for COVID-19 to confirm they didn’t have it, then followed to see if they did contract it. If a participant did test positive for COVID-19, the taste test was repeated to see if the results changed during infection.

Here are some other highlights of the study:

  • It included nearly 2,000 participants
  • Results suggest the expression of receptors decreases with increasing age
  • Of those who tested positive for COVID-19, 20.7% required hospitalization. Of those who required hospitalization, 85.5% were non-tasters. Zero were super-tasters.

The taste tests place people in one of three groups: “non-tasters,” “super-tasters,” and “tasters.” Up to 25% of people can’t detect certain bitter flavors at all (non-tasters), another 25% can detect exceedingly small quantities of bitter flavors (supertasters), and everyone else is in between these two extremes (tasters). Tasters are likely to display mild to moderate symptoms often not requiring hospitalization, unless they have existing underlying conditions or advanced age with decreased expression of the receptors.

The test itself is quick and easy and is conducted by placing four tiny strips of paper on the tongue, one at a time. After each strip, Dr. Barham and his team asks the person to report flavor and intensity on a scale of 1-10. For example, the strip could taste very bitter or mildly bitter. Based on their ability to taste each strip, people are classified into one of the three taster groups.

Dr. Barham and his team conducted the study from July-September, through their outpatient practice, Sinus and Nasal Specialists of Louisiana, and BRG’s Bluebonnet hospital, where the practice is located.

About Baton Rouge General Medical Center
Baton Rouge General Medical Center is the area’s first community hospital with over 600 licensed beds between three campuses. Baton Rouge General opened its doors in 1900, and has provided the Greater Baton Rouge community with high-quality healthcare for generations. An accredited teaching hospital since 1991, Baton Rouge General is affiliated with several medical school programs, and offers other medical education programs, including a School of Nursing, School of Radiologic Technology, Family Medicine Residency Program, Internal Medicine Residency Program, and Sports Medicine Fellowship Program. For more information, visit, find us on Facebook at and follow us on Twitter @BRGeneral and Instagram @batonrougegeneral.