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COVID-19 drives smell loss awareness, research

The pandemic has thrust a relatively unknown ailment, anosmia — or smell loss — into the international spotlight.

Why it matters: Researchers hope smell testing becomes as standard as the annual flu shot, helping to detect early signs of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

  • "Loss of smell is associated with so many different health conditions," olfactory researcher Pamela Dalton told Axios. "It’s something we should be checking."

The big picture: Severe or complete smell loss — which impacts roughly 3% of the 40+ U.S. population — has devastating effects, making sufferers feel ostracized, isolated in social settings, and unable to fully taste or enjoy food.

  • There are few tools to diagnose and treat it.

Now a growing group of people who haven't recovered their sense of smell months after having COVID are joining these ranks.

  • Studies suggest that a majority of people who get COVID-19 experience smell loss. For most of them, it's temporary. But at least 5% seem to have long-term loss.
Chart: Axios Visuals
  • This has public health and safety implications ranging from depression to not being able to sense danger like fire.

What’s next: Innovation in the smell space could make smell testing more accessible, identify treatments and improve quality of life for a significant part of the population.

  • While smell testing currently exists, it's not widely used and can be expensive, employing dozens of odors, Dalton, who works at Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Axios.
  • The Center, based in Philadelphia, received an NIH grant at the end of last year to research the effectiveness of a "lift and sniff" test that has just one odor and could be used to rapidly detect COVID.
  • Another study is looking into at-home scratch-and-sniff tests.

Yes, but: There are concerns about the limitations of diagnostic smell tests, as the New York Times has reported.

What's next: Cyrano Therapeutics, a Washington, D.C.-based medicine company, is researching a nasal spray for anosmia, with randomized trials set to start next year.

  • Clinical trials by Washington University School of Medicine aim to test multiple therapies for COVID-related smell loss: a nasal rinse and a specific type of smell training (regularly inhaling certain scents) that incorporates visuals and "patient-preferred scents" rather than pre-determined odors.

European soccer goes to war over wealthy clubs' plans for exclusive "Super League"

Europe's biggest soccer clubs have established The Super League, a new midweek tournament that would compete with — and threaten the very existence of — the Champions League.

Why it matters: This new league, set to start in 2023, "would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European soccer since the 1950s, and could herald the largest transfer of wealth to a small set of teams in modern sports history," writes NYT's Tariq Panja.

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The state worst hit by the pandemic

Data: Hamilton Place Strategies; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the job facing governments was to save lives and save jobs. Very few states did well on both measures, while New York, almost uniquely, did particularly badly on both.

Why it matters: The jury is still out on whether there was a trade-off between the dual imperatives; a new analysis from Hamilton Place Strategies shows no clear correlation between the two.

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Biden confronts eroded credibility on climate action and Paris agreement

The biggest hurdle for President Biden in winning new emissions reduction commitments at this week's White House summit is America's on-again, off-again history of climate change efforts.

Why it matters: The global community is off course to meet the temperature targets contained in the Paris Climate Agreement. The White House wants the summit Thursday and Friday to begin to change that.

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