Scientists have long known that sick people can emit particular odors pertaining to certain diseases. This can be a metabolic odor, possibly in the breath, or it can be an odor released in the sweat of an individual.
The olfactory prowess of dogs could be a useful ally in our battle against the COVID-19 virus. Many countries including the US are rapidly studying and training dogs to be used for screening purposes in large crowds like airports and arenas.
5. Nose or Olfactory Abilities
A canine’s olfactory sense is more than 10,000 times stronger than a human’s. The dogs are trained to sniff a certain odor, not of the virus itself, but an odor produced by our body when we are carrying the distinct species of that virus. This is very similar to dogs smelling cancer in a human.
4. Dog Studies on COVID Detection
In the UK there is a non-profit group called Medical Detection Dogs working on a government-funded study to test a dog’s ability to detect COVID-19, and so far it’s looking promising. A similar study is being done at the University of Pennsylvania.
3. COVID-19 Testing in France
A research team in France did a small study, using samples from COVID-positive patients, and found dogs could detect the virus infections in the smell of their sweat, using their armpits with a high degree of positivity. And researchers said dogs did not mind sniffing armpits!
2. How Do Trainers Work with Dogs?
Trainers work with the dogs to train them on the correct scents, and the dog gets rewarded when correct. So far it is being used in airports such as Finland, and just recently in February 2021, in Florida during NBA games by the Miami Heat. The dogs were part of a screening before entering the arena by sniffing people in lines. If the dog should walk past you, you passed the test; but if the dog sits next to you, it’s a signal to the trainer that it senses COVID-19.
This is very new, by a company called SNIFF, and used as a quick non-invasive manner of testing. They may not let anyone in your party inside the arena and should refund your fees.
1. How Reliable Is Detection Using Dogs?
To date, there are a few studies that have seen effective, but not yet peer-reviewed or published, only promising results. Research is being done around the world with some reporting a 94% detection rate. At this time, testing is only done on those who are sick, not asymptomatic individuals. The specificity of each virus may need more differentiation of its aroma or scent.
These COVID sniffing dogs are just one measure in helping to control the spread of this virus, you still will see mandatory mask use, other health screening, social distancing, and even cashless concessions at some of these events.