Dogs can be trained to detect COVID-19, claims study

Thanks to the efforts of some pioneering Germans, it seems we can train dogs to detect COVID-19. Why we’d need such a thing, I’m certainly unsure.

 

 

A new study out of Germany has found that dogs have no end to their talents, proving to be astonishingly effective at detecting Covid-19 through smell.

Led by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in Germany, a research team trained eight sniffer dogs from the German military to identify scents associated with SARS-CoV-2 in samples of human saliva and phlegm. The training only spanned a week, though the dogs were able to differentiate between samples from infected patients and healthy peoples with 96% accuracy. More specifically, the dogs scored 1,157 correct indications of positive, 792 correct rejections of negative, and 63 incorrect assessments.

While only considered a small pilot study in scientific circles, the findings are promising and suggest that sniffer dogs could play some role in the detection and management of Covid-19 infections in the future. The study was published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.

“These preliminary findings indicating that pre-trained scent detection dogs can discriminate reliably, accurately and rapidly between samples from SARS-CoV-2 infected patients and negative controls is truly exciting. We have built a solid foundation for future studies to explore what the dogs do scent and if they can be used to discriminate also between different disease timepoints or clinical phenotypes,” Professor Holger A Volk, department chair of small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, said in a statement.

Dogs being able to sniff out diseases is not new. In the past, sniffer dogs have been employed to detect malaria, Parkinson’s disease, some forms of cancer, and an assortment of infectious respiratory diseases.

 

It is unclear how applicable this knowledge is in reality, though the researchers suggest it would prove useful in countries and areas that struggle to obtain diagnostic tests. 

 

Dogs are able to do so through their finely tuned noses capable of sensing chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Diseases subtly alter the body’s metabolic processes, potentially producing different VOCs that enter the bloodstream and are eventually excreted in breath or urine. Remarkably, dogs have the capacity of differentiating between the scent of these minuscule compounds in concentrations as small as 0.001 parts per million. Dogs can thank the 200 to 300 million olfactory receptors found in their noses; for comparison, humans have a mere 5 million.

It is unclear how applicable this knowledge is in reality, though the researchers suggest it would prove useful in countries and areas that struggle to obtain diagnostic tests. 

“In countries with limited access to diagnostic tests, detection dogs could then have the potential to be used for mass detection of infected people. Further work is necessary to better understand the potential and limitation of using scent dogs for the detection of viral respiratory diseases,” the researchers conclude in their study. 

 

 

 

 

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