An olfactory self-test effectively screens for COVID-19

  • Snitz K
  • Honigstein D
  • Weissgross R
  • et al.
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Abstract

Key to curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic are wide-scale screening strategies. An ideal screen is one that would not rely on transporting, distributing, and collecting physical specimens. Given the olfactory impairment associated with COVID-19, we developed a perceptual measure of olfaction that relies on smelling household odorants and rating them online. Each participant was instructed to select 5 household items, and rate their perceived odor pleasantness and intensity using an online visual analogue scale. We used this data to assign an olfactory perceptual fingerprint, a value that reflects the perceived difference between odorants. We tested the performance of this real-time tool in a total of 13,484 participants (462 COVID-19 positive) from 134 countries who provided 178,820 perceptual ratings of 60 different household odorants. We observe that olfactory ratings are indicative of COVID-19 status in a country, significantly correlating with national infection rates over time. More importantly, we observe indicative power at the individual level (79% sensitivity and 87% specificity). Critically, this olfactory screen remains effective in participants with COVID-19 but without symptoms, and in participants with symptoms but without COVID-19. The current odorant-based olfactory screen adds a component to online symptom-checkers, to potentially provide an added first line of defense that can help fight disease progression at the population level. The data derived from this tool may allow better understanding of the link between COVID-19 and olfaction. From early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, a symptom associated with infection was rapid and often complete loss of the sense of smell. This rendered smell testing a potentially helpful tool in large-scale screening for SARS-CoV-2 infection. We built an online tool (smelltracker.org) that enables assessment of the sense of smell using commonly available household odorants. Initial use by 13,484 participants (462 COVID-19 positive) from 134 countries corroborated that SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with impaired smell. Moreover, the tool detected infection in the absence of any other symptoms, including subjective loss in smell. Use of this tool may provide an added instrument for screening SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the data generated by the tool may provide for deeper understanding of the brain mechanisms involved with loss of smell associated with COVID-19. Snitz et al. develop a web-based olfactory screening tool for COVID-19, which relies on users smelling household odorants. Based on data from participants in 134 countries, the authors report that olfactory ratings are indicative of COVID-19 status.

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Snitz, K., Honigstein, D., Weissgross, R., Ravia, A., Mishor, E., Perl, O., … Sobel, N. (2022). An olfactory self-test effectively screens for COVID-19. Communications Medicine, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43856-022-00095-7

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