Is there anything our four-legged fur babies can't do?
A research team led by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, along with the Bundeswehr, the Hannover Medical School, and the University Medical-Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, has carried out a study with eight specialized sniffer dogs from the Bundeswehr to sniff out people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
After only one week of training, the dogs were able to distinguish between the samples.
According to a press release from the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover Foundation, the study used eight specialized Budeswehr detection dogs in the study. Once trained, the dogs were able to sniff out and correctly identify 94% of some 1,012 saliva or tracheobronchial secretion samples. The samples were given out randomly and neither the dog handlers nor researchers were aware of which samples were COVID and which were control. The dogs were able to distinguish between samples of infected (positive) and non-infected (negative) individuals with an average sensitivity of 83 percent and a specificity of 96 percent.
This method could be employed in public areas such as airports, sports events, borders, or other mass gatherings as an addition to laboratory testing, helping to prevent further spreading of the virus or outbreaks.
Dr. Esther Schalke, who works at the Bundeswehr School of Official Dogs in Ulmen and was part of the project, says: "“Dog odor detection is far better than the general public can imagine. Still, we were amazed at how quickly our dogs could be trained to recognize samples from SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals. "
“The results of the study are incredibly exciting. We have laid a solid foundation for future studies to investigate what the dogs smell and whether they can also be used to differentiate between different times of illness or clinical phenotypes," said Professor Holger Volk, PhD.
Professor Dr. Albert Osterhaus said: “When Professor Volk contacted me, I was initially amazed, but then also fascinated by the idea of using detection dogs to detect SARS-CoV-2. It is known that infectious respiratory diseases can release specific volatile organic compounds. This pilot study is likely to show how volatile organic compounds could be used for future test strategies. ”
Dogs are known for their sense of smell and have been known to be able to detect infectious and non-infectious diseases like different types of cancer and malaria with high rates.
More research is needed but the results are exciting. This is a pilot study. The next step is to train dogs to differentiate Covid-19 samples from other diseases like influenza.
"In countries with limited access to diagnostic tests, detection dogs could then have the potential to be used for mass detection of infected people," said the conclusion. "Further work is necessary to better understand the potential and limitation of using scent dogs for the detection of viral respiratory diseases."