New ‘smell test’ may help screen more people for COVID-19

Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 4:57 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Millions of people are being tested for COVID-19 daily, which can mean long lines, and sometimes delayed results.

But what if there was an easier and cheaper way to test for one of the main symptoms of the virus, just by smelling something?

That just might be the case after a CU Boulder alum had the idea a few months ago.

“I think we expect that 95% of people who have loss of smell is because of covid very, very high, high percent,” Dr. Derek Toomre, the developer said.

Derek Toomre is a professor at Yale Medical School. He is a CU Boulder alum, and created the ‘usmellit’ test as a way to screen for COVID-19.

“You have the, the, basically the card and the app,” he said holding up the card with different scents. “And we scan the card and we’re given a number of windows. You, basically rub this, you pick something that you think is right.”

Loss of smell is a hallmark symptom of the virus. Not only can this help detect COVID, but its cost effective too. Each test cost just 50 cents.

“It works much better than we thought. If you do this twice or three times a week, you’re effective at preventing viral spread as doing complex molecular tests, which are much, much more expensive and really impractical to scale up to large numbers of people,” Dr. Roy Parker, a distinguished professor at CU Boulder said.

Parker, who is a biochemistry professor at CU Boulder worked with Dan Larremore, an assistant professor of computer science, used mathematical modeling to see if this concept could work. In short, they think it can.

“It’s really useful for us to test people, just walking around society. You think they’re healthy for COVID and if we can identify that we can break chains with viral transmission,” he explained. “If we could do that, then I think we could greatly reduce the number of people who have COVID, but don’t know it. "

Right now the test is waiting on FDA approval for emergency use authorization. But for the two buffs, the future of it is exciting, and noses everywhere can get a break from the swab and opt to take a deep breath in instead.

“We have novel kinds of testing coming out, like the smell test, and it’s inspiring. And, you know, I’m very happy to be part of it in a small way,” Parker added.

“We want to help. There’s a moment of crisis and need, and we have to do something about it,” Toomre said.

Copyright 2020 KKTV. All rights reserved.