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Trained dogs can sniff out coronavirus with 94% accuracy

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Feb 04, 2021 2:27 am

Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (TiHo) in Germany have discovered that trained sniffer dogs can detect coronavirus in human samples with 94% accuracy.

In July last year, the team trained eight sniffer dogs consisting of sheep dogs, spaniels and retrievers from the German Federal Defense. for eight weeks. There, they were asked to identify which among the randomly arranged mucus and saliva presented to them were infected with the virus. 

Photo: picture-alliance/R.Lafargue

According to German publication DW Akademie, the animals were able to positively detect SARS-CoV-2 infected secretions with an 83% success rate, and control secretions at a rate of 96%. The overall detection rate, combining both, was 94%. The results were derived from more than 1,000 sniffed samples and published in the BMC Infectious Diseases  Journal.

Photo: picture-alliance/R.Lafargue

Scientists were prompted to examine this matter following studies proving that dogs can sniff out various diseases, such as cancer, malaria, Parkinson’s disease, as well as hypoglycemia in diabetics. This is brought on by their powerful sense of smell made up of 220 million scent receptors 10,000 times more accurate than the human’s 5 million. 

"We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed and we think that the dog is able to detect a specific smell of the metabolic changes that occur in those patients," said Professor Maren von Köckritz-Blickwede, an infectious disease specialist at the TiHo.

"What has to be crystal clear is that this is just a pilot study," said Holger Volk, chair of the university's department of small animal medicine. "There's a lot of potential to take this further—to really use these dogs in the field.”

The team said that sniffer dogs could play a vital role in detecting COVID-19 patient in “countries with limited access to diagnostic tests.” But they also noted, "Further work is necessary to better understand the potential and limitation of using scent dogs for the detection of viral respiratory diseases.”

They are also eyeing to train dogs on determining COVID-19 patients from those who have other diseases like flu.

Apart from TiHo, the University of Helsinki in Finland, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in England, and other institutions in the US and Germany have also been digging into this matter.

Banner photos from Reuters/W. Rattay.