Researchers in Arizona say smell tests could help detect COVID-19

Posted at 1:49 PM, Jan 14, 2021

PHOENIX, Ariz. — An Arizona State University researcher is working with two others to design smell tests that could be used to help identify cases of COVID-19.

One is a simple scratch-and-sniff test.

"We know it won't be as accurate as a viral nasal swab or saliva test. We just want something that is pretty good but is much cheaper, much faster, much easier to deploy all over the world," says ASU researcher Rick Gerkin.

The study is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"On this kind of test, there are four spots with four different odors on them. If you scratch them, you can respond," says Gerkin.

There is also a test that focuses on the amount of odor that is detected.

Thousands of participants will be asked to take these smell tests and a viral test as well. Then, researchers will compare the results.

"A kind of test that you can take out of your pocket or a stack and do in a minute. Do it every day at the cost of a dollar for a week," says Gerkin.

The second part of the study aims to see how the tests help in larger settings, like identifying outbreaks.

"For example, you would want to do this at schools. If the kids show up in the morning and take the test, you immediately know if there was a change in the level of smell loss at the school level. Then, maybe you would know there was a COVID outbreak," says Gerkin.

Dr. Franklyn Gergits sees patients with loss of smell on a daily basis. The loss of smell is often temporary, lasting a few weeks.

"It's the inflammation coming from the virus inside the nasal cavity," says Dr. Gergits of Sinus & Allergy Wellness Center.

Gergits says he often makes a referral for COVID testing but it is not always approved. The smell tests would be another option.

"I really think that it is a great idea because 80% of the patients who have COVID have a loss of smell. If we can identify those patients early with a smell test that is not bothersome, nasal swab or saliva test or delay in diagnosis, I think that's a great idea," says Dr. Gergits.

The researchers expect to have preliminary results in March, with the possibility of getting the smell tests out to the public in the spring.

If successful, they are hoping for FDA approval.

This story was first published by Ashley Paredez at KNXV in Phoenix, Arizona.