Dogs and Coronavirus (File Photo) Photograph:( AFP )
Study results show that specially trained dogs can detect the disease non-invasively and rapidly, with a sensitivity of 94.3% and a specificity of 92.2%
New research in the UK has found that trained dogs have high levels of accuracy when it comes to smelling the distinct odour of people who are infected with the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), this study was done in collaboration with Durham University and a charity, Medical Detection Dogs.
Hailed as the most comprehensive study to date combining dog trial, odour analysis, and modelling, it found that dogs specially trained for the job can detect the disease rapidly and non-invasively with up to 94.3 per cent sensitivity and up to 92 per cent specificity.
Dogs involved in the study were able to detect odour from asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals, including those infected with two different COVID-19 strains and those with both high and low viral loads.
Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM, who led the project, said the presence of the new strains poses a threat to the country for some time to come, adding "that's where these amazing dogs could play a role."
This method can detect COVID-19 in large groups of people with great speed and accuracy, even in asymptomatic cases. However, more testing is needed to determine whether the dogs will replicate these results in a real-world setting. However, the results of the study are extremely encouraging, he added.
Researchers trained the dogs at Medical Detection Dogs to identify COVID-19 using body odour samples sent by members of the public and National Health Service (NHS) staff, which included masks, socks, and t-shirts. LSHTM collected and analyzed 3,758 samples, choosing 325 positives and 675 negative specimens for testing.
According to Dr Claire Guest, Chief Scientific Officer at Medical Detection Dogs, it is clear that dogs are a reliable biosensor for detecting human disease odours and as evidenced by the study dogs have the potential to significantly aid in the fight against COVID-19.
"Knowing that we can harness the amazing power of a dog's nose to detect COVID-19 quickly and non-invasively gives us hope for a return to a more normal way of life through safer travel and access to public places, so that we can again socialise with family and friends," she said.
An accompanying mathematical model confirms the possibility of using dogs to screen plane passengers at ports of entry or other sites, with preliminary work suggesting that two dogs could screen 300 passengers during a "Rapid Screen and Test" implementation.
A PCR test would only be necessary for individuals identified by dogs.
When Bio Detection dogs are used in conjunction with a confirmatory PCR test, it's estimated that there will be more onward transmissions detected and prevented compared to isolating symptomatic individuals only.
(With inputs from agencies)