‘Smell cards’ mooted to screen people

Experts say that loss of smell is one of the many symptoms and not necessarily a condition of COVID-19.

July 28, 2020 11:08 pm | Updated July 29, 2020 12:27 am IST - Bengaluru

Anosmia, or loss of smell, is one of the symptoms that afflicts many, but not all COVID-19 patients. With this in mind, Bengaluru Mayor M. Goutham Kumar on Tuesday directed officials to look into the possibility of introducing “smell card checks” at public places, including malls, to identify asymptomatic cases.

At the BBMP council meeting on Tuesday, he said since loss of smell and loss of taste are symptoms of COVID-19, a “smell card check” could be introduced at public spaces including malls. “I have learnt from the media that such a thing is being mulled over in Delhi. Hence, the possibility of such checks can be looked into,” he said.

He suggested “smell cards” with strong flavours such as citrus (lemons and oranges) can be used. If a person fails to identify the smell, he/she may not be allowed into malls or public spaces and be advised to stay at home. These smell tests can be an addition to existing precautions such as thermal checks, he said.

However, experts say loss of taste and smell are just one of the many symptoms and not necessarily conditions of COVID-19.

C.N. Manjunath, director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, and nodal officer for labs and testing in Karnataka’s COVID-19 task force, said checking olfactory function might not be a viable option as the symptom is found in less than 5% of COVID-19 patients. “Most of the people infected with the virus do not lose their sense of taste and smell,” he said.

Mr. Manjunath also pointed out such olfactory tests could become counter- productive. “Many people can develop irritation after being made to sniff at a smell card,” he said, adding that maintaining social distancing and compulsory use of masks and sanitisers should be strictly followed and implemented.

Author C.K. Meena said such tests at public places would create problems for those suffering from anosmia. “I am smell blind and if I cannot identify a smell, does that mean I will not be allowed to go to public places,” she asked, adding that it was highly unlikely that people administering the tests at checkposts would understand that she was “smell blind”.

The suggestion has left civic activists bemused. “We are not aware of any such method being deployed anywhere,” said a civic activist.

A member of a residents’ welfare association wanted to know if the Mayor would introduce taste tests instead. “If the Mayor wants to introduce smell cards, then why can’t he organise taste tests. Give some bite-sized idli-vada or bhajjis, before we board a bus or enter a mall,” she said.

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