Smell test might improve COVID-19 screening

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A “smell test” might be a better way to screen for the novel coronavirus than checking for cough or fever, a new study suggests.

COVID-19 patients often lose their sense of smell without realizing it, but researchers were able to use simple scratch-and-sniff cards to correctly identify 75% of infected individuals and 95% of people without the disease.

In the study, 163 adults – who were being screened for COVID-19 with gold-standard PCR analysis of nasal swabs – were each given a card with scratch-and-sniff scents that they had to identify from a multiple-choice selection.

“Compared to other symptoms like cough, fever, fatigue, and history of COVID-19 exposure, failing the smell card was the best predictor of COVID-19 positivity,” Dr. Mena Said of the University of California, San Diego told Reuters. Quick smell tests might be a practical way to reduce COVID-19 transmission, he added, if larger studies with more diverse populations confirm these findings, which were reported in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.