Health officials report loss of smell, gastrointestinal issues as additional COVID-19 symptoms

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across Minnesota, health officials say there may be new symptoms associated with the virus, such as a loss of smell and gastrointestinal issues. Experts say this virus can look different as symptoms vary from person to person.

Due to the finite number of tests and the ongoing cold and flu season, it's been challenging for doctors to give a diagnosis quickly.

A little over a week ago, John O'Neill had returned from California and started to feel like the flu was coming on.

"Basically, I woke up on Saturday morning, I had a lot of body aches and felt like someone had beat me with a baseball bat," he said. "I was running up to 100 [degrees], 101, in that range."

The 68-year-old is considered high risk due to past heart surgeries and cancers. He tested negative for the flu and other seasonal colds, but was finally diagnosed with COVID-19.

Luckily, he's going to make a full recovery.

While O'Neill had the typical symptoms of COVID-19, doctors around the globe are reporting that many of their patients are showing more stomach and other digestive issues first before respiratory symptoms then hit.

Dr. George Morris of CentraCare in the St. Cloud area said most cases their hospital systems are seeing now are from community spread.

“It is a virus, so it affects everyone a little bit differently - certainly with different ages. One of the challenges with it is as it gets to more people, is what you would call rarer symptoms - something that might only happen .1% of the time. So, if we have 1,000 people, we’re going to see that at least once,” Dr. Morris said.

There are instances of more young children and even babies contracting the virus too, although it's much more mild than how it impacts the elderly.

One of the other strange statistics seen both here in Minnesota and around the world is the disproportionate number of men coming down with COVID-19.

“Coronaviruses are in common colds, so perhaps if people had been exposed to a certain type - they’re not immune to COVID-19 virus, but there could be an immune system memory that might help women. I haven't seen anything as far as testosterone, estrogen levels, X, Y chromosomes...this is a hard one. It does seem to be hitting men a little bit more,” he said.

The CDC and MDH recommend Minnesotans do the following to protect themselves and others and limit the spread of COVID-19: 

  • Stay home and away from others if you are sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • Wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your face throughout the day

Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. The CDC recommends staying a minimum of 6 feet away.