Researchers Creating Smell Test for Coronavirus

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 08:59

Boston researchers are working on creating a smell test in order to be an important early detector for coronavirus.

“I had one person tell me they had their head in a coffee jar and they get nothing” in terms of smell, Albers said. Another couldn’t smell gasoline, they told Dr. Mark Albers, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Smell loss is showing a very high odds ratio — a very high risk of having the COVID infection,” Boston Herald reports.

A couple of studies have shown as many as 60 or 70% of people who have the virus reporting they had loss of smell or taste early on in the progression of the disease. Some actual tests of COVID-positive people’s senses of smell indicate that the number can be even higher — with some people having a more minor loss of smell that they don’t necessarily notice.

Albers said the test will involve essentially a postcard that’s sent or distributed to people, with instructions to go to a website and take the test. The card will have tabs to peel back, unveiling a smell. Participants will enter data on the website about what they perceive as the strength of the smell, and differentiating between smells.

“What we envision is being able to distribute these more broadly,” Albers told the Herald. “It could really play a role in helping flatten the curve.”

Albers said researchers are also looking at whether the recovery of smell and taste — which in some cases with this disease can be unusually abrupt — tracks with a lack of contagiousness or immunity. There’s also ongoing research into the connections between loss of smell and the ultimate severity of the disease; some preliminary research suggests that the cases that involve loss of smell often actually don’t end up being the cases that end up the worst.

Albers specializes in loss of smell, and has worked to use similar tests to detect the early onset of Alzheimer’s — a project he worked on with tech company ADK Group, alongside Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Dan Tatar of ADK Group said that if the research pans out, his company and their partners will be ready to mass produce these tests.

“Our numbers will quickly scale up to the tens of thousands and the hundreds if thousands,” Tatar said.

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