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Boston Researchers Work On Smell Test For Early Detection Of Coronavirus

BOSTON (CBS) - Many patients with Covid-19 have reported a loss of taste and smell. Now researchers at Mass General, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital are working on a test they hope will detect that symptom even before the patient notices it.

"Our research, and others, have shown that self-report of smell function is unreliable and so we wanted to develop a test that would be able to objectively measure the sense of smell," explained Dr. Mark Albers, a Mass General Neurologist and one of the researchers on the project.

The test involves a sheet of paper with several peel and sniff stickers on it. The patient smells each odor and then answers a series of questions on a phone app. Dr. Albers says he couldn't reveal the odors used in the test, but part of the questioning involves identifying two identical smells.

The goal here is to identify those who may have the disease and not know it. "With Covid infection 30% to 50% of people say they have lost their sense of smell, but results are showing much higher rates of smell loss," Albers said. "The idea would be that in addition to screening for symptoms... occasionally you would perform a smell test and check in on your sense of smell." If patients know they have lost their smell, they could avoid other people to stop the spread of the virus.

About 400 patients are being recruited to try the test which can easily be done at home. The researchers will mail a sheet of paper with the peel and sniff samples and the patient can download the app on their phone.

According to Albers, researchers are looking into whether the return of the sense of taste and smell coincides with the body developing immunity to the disease. They are also looking into those who lose their smell have a milder form of the disease.

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