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News

Help Carthage study what the nose knows about COVID-19

August 28, 2020

This fall, as scientists around the world work to unravel the mystery of the newest coronavirus, there’s an easy way for the campus community to benefit from that emerging research and contribute to it, too.

Part public health campaign and part research study, a Carthage initiative will focus on one of the unique symptoms of COVID-19: the temporary loss of smell.

“It can be an early sign of the virus — and sometimes the only sign,” says psychological science professor Leslie Cameron, noting that early detection is vital in preventing the spread.

To shed light on one of the more unique symptoms of COVID-19, Carthage is providing a scratch-and...To shed light on one of the more unique symptoms of COVID-19, Carthage is providing a scratch-and-sniff smell test to students, faculty, and staff. Credit: Sensonics International

As the fall semester gets underway, Carthage is providing a free smell test to students and employees to complete on their own. The scratch-and-sniff card features eight familiar scents that each person should identify from a list of options, multiple-choice style.

Commercially available, the product is made by Sensonics International. New and returning students will receive the card during check-in, while faculty and staff should pick up theirs at the Human Resources office in Lentz Hall.

Each person should report the test results while completing the #StaySafeCarthage Daily Check-in. Three or more misidentified odors could signal the presence of COVID-19.

“The people we call asymptomatic carriers may actually have some smell loss,” explains Prof. Cameron.

In addition, the eight-item test establishes a baseline for all who opt into a longer Carthage research study that the Psychological Science Department is undertaking. Participants will monitor themselves daily to make sure they can still smell three provided items.

Using specific scents as prompts is valuable, she explains. Otherwise, “self-reported sense of smell is notoriously poor.”

Prof. Cameron, along with a collaborator from the Medical College of Wisconsin, is leading the project. Her previous research has focused heavily on the human sense of smell (known as olfaction).

Six Carthage psychology majors are assisting. For most of them, this will form the backbone of a timely senior thesis.

“We have a unique opportunity to study something so relevant and topical,” says Prof. Cameron. “I’ve never been involved with anything where the research citations all come from the current year.”

Besides furthering important research, participants are eligible to win gift cards in monthly prize drawings. To enroll, visit the smell study website.

Even if they choose not to participate in the ongoing study, she urges community members to keep the self-testing card handy. Down the line, if concerns about exposure or symptoms arise, they can retake the test for comparison.

For more information, contact the full research team at smelltest@carthage.edu or Prof. Cameron at lcameron@carthage.edu.

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