Among the many strange and unexpected symptoms of COVID-19, the leading UK professor has recently highlighted another lesser-known symptom of the infection that affects a person's mouth: "COVID tongue."
Professor Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, tweeted a photo of an anonymous person's tongue that’s covered in unusual white patches, which he calls “COVID tongue.”
As Spector notes, "COVID tongue" is not listed on any of Public Health England's official COVID-19 symptom lists. There is also no mention of oral symptoms on the main symptoms listed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, he argues it could potentially be a key sign that you have the infection and need to stay at home to self-isolate.
“One in five people with Covid still present with less common symptoms that don't get on the official PHE [Public Health England] list - such as skin rashes,” Professor Spector tweeted on Wednesday. “Seeing increasing numbers of Covid tongues and strange mouth ulcers. If you have a strange symptom or even just headache and fatigue stay at home!”
Professor Spector is leading the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app, which allows people to sign up and self-report any of their COVID-19 symptoms, should they become infected. With over 4.5 million people contributing data globally, the app is part of one of the world’s largest ongoing studies of COVID-19 and hopes to provide new scientific understanding into the diverse symptoms the virus causes in different people.
This is not the first time COVID-19 has been linked to symptoms of the tongue and mouth. Research published in the Nature journal Evidence-Based Dentistry in June 2020 detailed three COVID-19 patients who were experiencing oral ulceration or blistering of the mouth, most likely as a result of their infection. Another study, published in JAMA Dermatology looked at 21 COVID-19 patients in Spain who had skin rashes and found six individuals (29 percent) also presented with an oral rash, resembling small red spots on the inside the mouth. In most of the studied cases, the oral symptoms did not appear to be linked to any medicines the patients were taking, leading the researchers to conclude it was a symptom of their COVID-19 infection.
Other studies have also shown that the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is able to directly infect the mouth. A pre-print paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, explains that researchers detected a SARS-CoV-2 in the salivary glands and mucosa of people with COVID-19.
There have even been unconfirmed reports of people with COVID-19 losing their teeth, although IFLScience spoke to a dentist who was skeptical that the infection was primarily responsible for the teeth falling out.