How Medical Detection Dogs can sniff out the virus and help in the pandemic by Emma Hammett of First Aid For Life.
“Exciting medical news shows dogs are proving their worth yet again, this time at the frontline of the war against disease. Specially trained dogs can already sniff out cancer, diabetes sugar changes and early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Now scientists in the UK and The Gambia believe dogs can also sniff out Covid-19.
Dogs are ‘super-smellers’ and once they had received specialist training to recognise the distinctive aroma of Covid-19, they were able to correctly identify 94 out of every 100 infected people from the clothing worn by infected people.
The dogs are trained for 8 to 10 weeks and are positively rewarded each time they correctly identify someone who has Covid-19. They are taught to identify the Covid-19 odour from t-shirts, socks and masks donated by members of the public and NHS staff, some of whom had tested positive for the virus.
Due to a dog’s incredible sense of smell, they can detect the odour of volatiles in a dilution of one part per trillion. This is equivalent to one drop of blood in one Olympic sized swimming pool of water.
Each dog has a different “tell” sign they use to show when they smell Covid-19. Whereas one dog sits and whines another dog furiously wags their tail.
Six dogs were involved in the double-blind trial phase of the experiment. This means that the chance of bias was removed because both the dogs and researchers did not know which of the samples were positive or negative.
Although the dogs work faster than PCR tests and are more accurate than lateral flow tests they will never replace PCR tests. However, the specially trained dogs could be used at airports to screen carriers of the disease without symptoms. This would massively help prevent the spread of Covid-19 across borders.
Once a sniffer dog has identified a possible Covid-19 carrier, this could then be confirmed by a PCR test. Those identified would have to quarantine whilst waiting for the test result, however, this would inconvenience far fewer people.
The hardest part of this study is scaling up. Training the dogs requires a lot of time and the study needs clothing worn by both those infected and uninfected. Researchers are looking in to identifying the odour molecules the dogs are detecting. They hope to create a “pseudo-odour” which could increase how many dogs can be trained.”
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