COVID-19, Anosmia, Clever Canines and The Niche Fragrance Community

2020 . 05 . 29 | written by Karen Marin

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Of the five senses, the sense of smell has been the least developed and trained in most cultures. And yet fragrance is one of the most powerful senses! The olfactory bulb that recognizes scent is part of the limbic system which also handles memory, mood, emotion and behavior. Our sense of smell can alert us to the danger of a house on fire, it can warn us to avoid walking in what the dog left behind, and more pleasantly, it can stir up nostalgic moments that waft over us when certain scents are present in the air. The sense of smell is on the radar of the world now due to the current pandemic. While pharmaceutical companies are racing to discover a vaccine against COVID-19, anosmia, the loss of smell, has been linked to the virus. In fact, now more than 17 countries, including the UK and the US, recognize smell loss as a possible indicator, even when other symptoms are not present. Several niche fragrance community members are actively involved in projects related to the loss of the sense of smell and the COVID-19 virus. Here are their stories.

Back in March 2020, studies started indicating a high number of patients suffering from smell and taste loss were testing positive for COVID-19. It prompted a group of scientists and medical professionals from over 52 countries to unite and create the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers (GCCR) who’s mission is to coordinate global crowd-sourced research to better understand the correlation between smell and taste loss as symptoms of COVID-19.

What started as a simple email between medical professionals grew exponentially in a short amount of time. Now, more than four hundred professionals from all over the world are working on this project. They have developed a short online survey that asks questions about COVID-19 symptoms, other viral and respiratory illness symptoms, other medical conditions, smoking, and medicines taken. The GCCR urges anyone who has suffered from a respiratory illness within the last two months, to please visit the site and take the anonymous questionnaire. The survey is available in Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Slovenian, Swedish, Turkish and in eight Indian languages. In addition to the multiple languages, the survey may be taken on the GCCR site as well as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, enabling the possibility to obtain a large pool of responses from a vast range of cultures, ethnicities and age groups. The study is ongoing and will continue for an indefinite period of time.

The data retrieved will be used to come to conclusions about how important the reported loss of sense of smell and taste are in relation to other symptoms, and if the loss of smell is a characteristic of COVID-19. Additionally, if the onset of the loss occurs in the early development of the illness, it can lead to recommendations for self-isolation and for testing. Just recently, preliminary results, coming from the GCCR study, were released, and they indicate that COVID-19 patients have suffered not only loss of smell, but also loss of taste as well as sensitivity of the skin and mucous membranes.

Christophe Laudamiel, master perfumer and scent engineer at DreamAir (New York) and BélAir Lab (Tokyo) is a member of GCCR. He is also founder and president of the non-profit Academy of Perfumery and Aromatics who’s aim is to promote education and perfume theory. He has created numerous fine fragrances and was named "Perfumer of the Future" in 2018 by Perfumers & Flavorists magazine. His Fragrance Manifesto which was the topic of a 2017 workshop at Esxence, sets forth a pioneering mission to shake up the perceptions about fragrance and make it accessible to everyone. Beginning with the way we learn and initially experience fragrance, to the value scent can bring us, to ideas of how fragrance can be incorporated into our lives, this comprehensive declaration of intentions, ideas and views, supports the basic human rights of Liberty, Fraternity and Fragrance for all.

Mr Laudamiel is also involved as an honorary ambassador on another, unique, sensory project that involves our canine friends. Dogs, with their extraordinary sense of smell, are now being enlisted in the battle against COVID-19. It seems that every illness and disease has a distinct odor, and if the odor can be detected, then dogs can be trained to sniff it out. Medical Detection Dogs (MDD), a charitable organization based in the UK, has produced over a dozen peer-reviewed reports to support this assumption, and in fact they have already successfully trained dogs to identify cancers, Parkinson’s disease and assorted bacterial infections. The UK government has agreed to fund a project to investigate whether detection dogs could help prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

Detection dogs go through a basic training program to recognize specific odors. They sniff samples and learn to identify specific odors. They are also able to detect changes in temperature on the skin, meaning they may be able to tell if someone has a fever. What this means is that dogs could be used to help screen people in public spaces as well as travelers when they cross entry points such as airports and train stations.
Knowing that respiratory disease can change body odor, MDD hopes that dogs will be able to smell COVID-19. Researchers are collecting smell samples of exudates or biological liquids present in people suffering from the virus. Once the samples are made safe to present to the dogs, the dogs will learn to detect the odor in the training center and then the training will move to real life situations. The organization hopes to work with other agencies to train more dogs to successfully extend the reach of this project.
If trained dogs are able to identify people who are carrying the virus, even if they are not sick, then it will be possible to mitigate the impact of future waves of the COVID-19.

Clearly, identifying and diagnosing anosmia is a growing concern. Several standardized tests exist in Europe and in the US, but they tend to be cumbersome, lengthy, and worst of all, may reuse the same materials with multiple patients. A group of fragrance industry professionals has gotten together to create a quick, disposable single use test as a tool to obtain information for a medical study on anosmia. It consists of a scratch off card that is simple to use. There are three rows with 3 options per row. The patient will scratch and smell each circle to determine which circle is scented and then they will identify the scent. The choices include lemon, vinegar, orange, mint and other common everyday scents. Within minutes it will be evident if patients are potentially experiencing anosmia. The card will be available by doctor’s prescription, free of charge to the patient in pharmacies in France beginning in June. The test will be conducted under the proscribing doctor’s supervision, who will then register the results on the study’s s website.
The concept was designed by Geraldine Archambault, founder and creator of Essential Parfums. A member of the CEW, she also conducts olfactory workshops in hospitals for trauma victims and patients suffering from Alzheimer’s.
The card was develop and funded by Orlandi, the Fragrance Foundation France, Symrise, and Essential Parfums, with the advice and counsel of Gilles Sicard, Researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Director of the Fondation Edmond Roudnitska, neurophysiologist and olfactologist.
We salute the members of our community for their dedication to these visionary projects.

Further, we hope that one of the lessons society can learn from the crisis is the fundamental value of our sense of smell in our daily life. In his Fragrance Manifesto, Mr Laudamiel asks, Shouldn’t children in school learn that “the brain gets as much information, pleasure, intelligence and decision power via our noses as via our eyes?” And that “Smelling can be quirky, punky, sexy, intellectual and more,” Isn’t it time our sense of smell be properly appreciated for how powerful it can be?

Have a related story to share? If you are involved in or aware of initiatives to combat COVID-19 linked to individuals or organizations in the niche fragrance sector, please contact our Editorial Board.

Please visit the GCCR site should you wish to take the survey.

The Fragrance Manifesto by Christophe Laudamiel :