Recently, much has been discussed about the loss of the sense of smell in the early stages of COVID-19. This reminds me of my introduction to the art of olfactory diagnosis.
Almost 50 years ago, I was a medical student at a New York City hospital where some of the old buildings still had elevator operators. There was one woman operator who was known to the medical students (because she would ask us questions) whose trichomonas urinary tract infections were obvious as soon as we entered her elevator.
As a practicing pediatrician for over 35 years in Florida, there were many times that I would walk into the exam room and I could immediately recognize the smell of the streptococcal bacteria causing the child’s throat infection. Before they even told me why they had come in to see me, I would ask them, “How long have you had a sore throat?” and they would think I was psychic.
Can pets carry disease?
Early in the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, there were questions raised about whether household pets could be the carriers of COVID-19 within a home. It reminded me of an incident from more than twenty years ago when the then-current theory that dogs could be the reason why it was difficult to eliminate the strep bacteria from certain families.
I was asked by a patient’s family to test their dog because of the difficulty they were having getting rid of recurrent strep throats in their three children. I arranged for them to bring their dog into my office after hours where we did a throat culture to send it to the lab for analysis. This took place in the days before the rapid strep test.
The problem was that we had sent the specimen under the name of the child who had experienced repeated strep infections. (What else was I supposed to do, submit it under the dog’s name, e.g. Fido Smith?)
A few days later, I received an urgent phone call from the pathologist in the laboratory. He was very alarmed about the presence of some strange bacterial species which he had not seen in human patients. He was very angry when I told him the truth and implied that I was committing insurance fraud. He sent my office a bill for the test so that I could get the family to pay for their pet’s throat culture.
We wound up convincing the lab to cancel the bill as long as I promised never to send in a specimen from a pet under its owner’s name.