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Agony of post-COVID-19 loss of smell

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Agony of post-COVID-19 loss of smell

NICE, France — The doctor slid a miniature camera into the patient’s right nostril, making her whole nose glow red with its bright miniature light.

“Tickles a bit, eh?” he asked as he rummaged around her nasal passages, the discomfort causing tears to well in her eyes and roll down her cheeks.

The patient, Gabriella Forgione, wasn’t complaining. The 25-year-old pharmacy worker was happy to be prodded and poked at the hospital in Nice, in southern France, to advance her increasingly pressing quest to recover her sense of smell. Along with her sense of taste, it suddenly vanished when she fell ill with COVID-19 in November and neither has returned.

Being deprived of the pleasures of food and the scents of things that she loves are proving tough on her body and mind. Shorn of odors both good and bad, Forgione is losing weight and self-confidence.

“Sometimes I ask myself, ’Do I stink?’” she confessed. “Normally, I wear perfume and like for things to smell nice. Not being able to smell bothers me greatly.”

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, doctors and researchers are still striving to better understand and treat the accompanying epidemic of COVID-19-related anosmia — loss of smell — draining much of the joy of life from an increasing number of sensorially frustrated longer-term sufferers like Forgione.

Even specialist doctors say there is much about the condition they still don’t know and they are learning as they go along in their diagnoses and treatments. Impairment and alteration of smell have become so common with COVID-19 that some researchers suggest that simple odor tests could be used to track coronavirus infections in countries with few laboratories.

For most people, the olfactory problems are temporary, often improving on their own in weeks. But a small minority are complaining of persistent dysfunction long after other COVID-19 symptoms have disappeared. Some have reported continued total or partial loss of smell six months after infection. The longest, some doctors say, are now approaching a full year.

Researchers working on the vexing disability say they are optimistic that most will eventually recover but fear some will not. Some doctors are concerned that growing numbers of smell-deprived patients, many of them young, could be more prone to depression and other difficulties and weigh on strained health systems.

“They are losing color in their lives,” said Dr. Thomas Hummel, who heads the smell and taste outpatients clinic at University Hospital in Dresden, Germany.

“These people will survive and they’ll be successful in their lives, in their professions,” Hummel added. “But their lives will be much poorer.”

At the Face and Neck University Institute in Nice, Dr. Clair Vandersteen wafted tube after tube of odors under Forgione’s nose after he had rooted around in her nostrils with his camera.

“Do you perceive any smell? Nothing? Zero? OK,” he asked, as she repeatedly and apologetically responded with negatives.

Only the last tube provoked an unequivocal reaction.

“Urgh! Oh, that stinks,” Forgione yelped. “Fish!”

Test complete, Vandersteen delivered his diagnosis.

“You need an enormous amount of an odor to be able to smell something,” he told her. “You haven’t completely lost your sense of smell but nor is it good.”

He sent her away with homework: six months of olfactory rehab. Twice daily, choose two or three scented things, like a sprig of lavender or jars of fragrances and smell them for two to three minutes, he ordered.

“If you smell something, great. If not, no problem. Try again, concentrating hard on picturing the lavender, a beautiful purple bloom,” he said. “You have to persevere.”

Losing the sense of smell can be more than a mere inconvenience. Smoke from a spreading fire, a gas leak, or the stink of rotten food can all pass dangerously unnoticed. Fumes from a used diaper, dog’s dirt on a shoe or sweaty armpits can be embarrassingly ignored.

And as poets have long known, scents and emotions are often like lovers entwined.

Evan Cesa used to relish meal times. Now they’re a chore. A fish dinner in September that suddenly seemed flavorless first flagged to the 18-year-old sports student that COVID-19 had attacked his senses. Foodstuffs became mere textures, with only residual hints of sweet and saltiness.

Five months later, breakfasting on chocolate cookies before classes, Cesa still chewed without joy, as though swallowing cardboard.

“Eating no longer has any purpose for me,” he said. “It is just a waste of time.”

Cesa is among the anosmia sufferers being studied by researchers in Nice who, before the pandemic, had been using scents in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. They also used comforting fragrances to treat post-traumatic stress among children after a truck terror attack in Nice in 2016, when a driver plowed through holiday crowds, killing 86 people.

The researchers are now turning their expertise to COVID-19, teaming up with perfumers from the nearby fragrance-producing town of Grasse. Perfumer Aude Galouye worked on the fragrant waxes that were wafted under Cesa’s nose to measure his olfactory impairment, with scents at varying concentrations.

“The sense of smell is a sense that is fundamentally forgotten,” Galouye said. “We don’t realize the effect it has on our lives except, obviously, when we no longer have it.”

The examinations on Cesa and other patients also include language and attention tests. The Nice researchers are exploring whether olfactory complaints are linked to COVID-related cognitive difficulties, including problems with concentrating. Cesa stumbled by picking the word “ship” when “kayak” was the obvious choice on one test.

“That is completely unexpected,” said Magali Payne, a speech therapist on the team. “This young man shouldn’t be experiencing linguistic problems.”

“We have to keep digging,” she said. “We are finding things out as we see patients.”

Cesa longs to have his senses restored, to celebrate the taste of pasta in carbonara sauce, his favorite dish and a run through the fragrant wonders of the great outdoors.

“One might think that it is not important to be able to smell nature, trees, forests,” he said. “But when you lose the sense of smell, you realize how truly lucky we are to be able to smell these things.”

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

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How do I get back into the workforce after a long gap?

I’ve been out of the job market for years, caring for an elderly relative who recently passed. How do I explain this big gap, and how do I make myself relevant? I used to work in a bank, but the job I did is basically obsolete now.

I’m going to tell you what you already know. The job search is hard enough for people with jobs, so transitioning back after being away is that much more difficult. I say this not to discourage you but to prepare you. “More difficult” doesn’t mean “impossible.” You have to prepare differently so that you can overcome the challenge. Your first goal is to just get back into the workforce and not try to pick up where you left off in the same job at the same level. It’s far easier to navigate your way to the job you want over time while you are employed. Make sure your skills are up to date by taking online courses. Stay positive, be persistent, flexible and leverage your contacts. As for explaining the gap, just tell the truth. It has the benefit of being true, and people can relate.

A friend of mine was told she could work remotely full time but has to take less money. Is that lawful?

Oh, the old “asking for a friend” routine. No worries, your secret is safe with me, and it’s not like your question is so unique that your “friends” will know it’s you. Basically, unless your employment is governed by some contract or collective-bargaining agreement, the terms of employment are between you and your employer and subject to change at the discretion of your employer, including compensation, responsibilities and work arrangements. Many employers and employees are considering the trade-offs for working remotely and the savings in the form of reduced office space and commuting expenses, respectively. For many employees, it includes more flexibility, too. You can choose to accept the new arrangements, or decline and continue with your current ones. If your employer isn’t offering you an option and you decline, you should be eligible for whatever layoff benefits the company provides, as well as unemployment benefits. I hope this works out for your “friend.”

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com.

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald’s fries

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Bill Gates said to be growing potatoes for McDonald's fries

Next time you savor a McDonald’s french fry, remember to thank Bill Gates for the tasty spud.

As reported in The Post, the soon-to-be single computer magnate happens to own more farmland than anyone else in the United States. Known for loving fast food — although his burger of choice comes from the Washington-based chainlet Burgermaster — Gates, according to NBC News, grows potatoes for McDonald’s in fields so vast they can be scoped from outer space.

Although Gates has focused his energies on saving our climate, he has made clear that the tater patches are strictly money-making operations.

“My investment group chose to do this,” stated Farmer Bill during an AMA on Reddit. “It is not connected to climate.”

Considering that Gates is said to own 269,000 acres of fertile land in 18 states, it’s easy to imagine him keeping track of it all on some souped-up series of spreadsheets. If so, gangs of divorce lawyers — including some who worked on the Jeff Bezos bust-up — have surely been scrutinizing the potato haul. Gates, the fourth-richest person in the world, married his impending ex, Melinda, without a prenuptial agreement, so they will be splitting property via a so-called “separation contract.”

No word on whether or not she will soon reign as McDonald’s potato queen.

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

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Honeybee worker can produce millions of identical clones, study shows

A South African subspecies of the honeybee is reportedly able to produce millions of clones of itself. 

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, one such insect – known as the Cape honeybee or Apis mellifera capensis– has managed to do so many times over the past 30 years. 

It’s a process called thelytokous parthenogenesis, which a group of international scientists said is akin to the “virgin birth of a female.” 

While asexual reproduction is fairly common, genetically identical offspring is not. 

The exchange of genetic material between different organisms, or “recombination,” normally leads to the production of offspring with combinations of different traits.

If there even is only one parent, New Scientist noted, offspring born from thelytokous parthenogenesis will still be born with a slightly different genetic makeup.

And yet, the worker Cape honeybee has reportedly found a way to reduce recombination and remain genetically healthy, whereas asexual reproduction has been lethal in honeybees before, resulting in inbred larvae that don’t survive. 

“For workers, it is important to reduce the frequency of recombination so as to not produce offspring that are homozygous.”

In order to learn more, the paper’s authors “experimentally manipulated” Cape workers and Cape queens to reproduce thelytokously.

“The two female castes of the Cape honeybee, Apis mellifera capensis, differ in their mode of reproduction. While workers always reproduce thelytokously, queens always mate and reproduce sexually,” the researchers explained in the paper’s abstract.

Performing fieldwork at South Africa’s Plant Protection Research Institute in Stellenbosch, the team instrumentally inseminated a queen with the semen of a single male and then introduced a brood comb holding several hundred eggs laid by the queen into a colony to be reared. 

Queens were made to reproduce asexually using what researchers said amounted to a “chastity belt.”

“When the queens were 5 days post eclosion we constrained them in an artificial insemination apparatus [37] without narcosis. We then glued a 5 mm piece of surgical tape (Micropore, 3M, Minnesota) over the sting chamber using nail varnish,” the paper explained. 

The researchers monitored the queens, confirming the chastity belts were intact after each flight around the colony and, eventually, compared asexually reproduced larvae of the queen to those of the workers.

“We monitored the queens closely for the next two weeks, to determine if and when oviposition had commenced. We collected larvae as soon as they appeared into ethanol,” the researchers wrote.

“Not all queens flew, not all returned from mating flights, and not all laid. In the end, we were able to harvest one queen and 25 of her larval progeny into ethanol.”

The group also genotyped four workers and 63 of their larvae.

Ultimately, the authors found that the queen showed levels of genetic recombination 100 times more than seen in the cloned offspring of the worker bees.

“Using a combination of microsatellite genotyping and whole-genome sequencing we find that a reduction in recombination is confined to workers only,” the abstract concluded.

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