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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Best COVID-19 Test: Fido

Around the world, trained dogs are becoming quick and accurate testers for the coronavirus. Should there be one in every nursing home?

Move over, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp. There’s someone else that can test samples with al-most 100% accuracy, get results in just a few seconds, and works for the cost of a bowl of kibble. And he (or she) doesn’t need to stick a swab up your nose to get a sample. America’s favorite pet has the potential to be the country’s best shot at mass testing.

Dogs have odor receptors up to 10,000 times stronger and more accurate than humans. Sniffer dogs have long been able to detect diseases like cancer, malaria, and viral infections, and warn about an upcoming seizure up to 45 minutes before it happens. Now, researchers around the world are training these amazing animals to detect COVID-19.

German Saliva Tests

In Germany, a double-blind study looked at eight dogs from Germany’s Armed Forces trained for just two weeks were able to detect the coronavirus with a 94% success rate. The animals sniffed saliva from more than 1,000 people, some healthy and some positive. The samples were distributed randomly, and neither the researchers nor the handlers knew which contained the virus.

Canine Airport Testers

At Finland’s Helsinki airport, random animals (including a cocker spaniel returned to a shelter seven times) with no prior experience was trained at sniff detection for 8 to 10 weeks in a state-funded pilot project. Four dogs work in shifts of two at a time, mainly on inbound international flights. Passengers pat their skin with a wipe, which is then placed in a tube near others with control scents. If a dog detects the virus, it responds with a woof, or by pawing or laying down. The suspect passenger is treated to a free swab test. 

The dogs are not smelling the virus itself, according to Dominique Grandjean, professor at the national veterinary school of Alfort in France, who heads a study of dogs that sniff out bombs, cancer, and people who are in need of rescue. Instead, the animals can smell the volatile chemicals emitted by our bodies when the virus infects cells. In his research, which has yet to be reviewed by peers, eight dogs used sweat samples with 83% accuracy (some made accurate identifications 100% of the time). 

Mass Testing Via Dog

Canines testers are arguably superior to current lab techniques, because they only react to active viral infections, not “dead” virus that continues to circulate. Grandjean does not think it’s silly to suppose that dogs — any breed or variety — could provide mass testing. 

“We can have one dog per retirement house that is trained and this dog would be able every single morning to check everybody, just by walking by,” he said. 

“Pet owners could have their dog trained in order to search for Covid, but not only for them,” he mused. “If we had 10,000 dogs able to sniff for Covid, well, that means that every dog should be able to sniff 200 to 300 samples a day, so that means 2 to 3 million samples a day.”

Some caveats remain. Scientists are still working to teach the dogs to distinguish between different viruses, such as those which cause flu and the coronavirus. However, many researchers see tremendous potential in the project, currently being explored in the U.K., Finland, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Lebanon, and Australia.

Physician David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, expressed optimism for the effort:

“If dogs can be appropriately trained, there is a high likelihood that they will have a higher success rate than the current screening strategies, given that they will be able to pick up the scent from wherever it emanates not just for those who have Covid in their upper airways,” he said. “They could work in ports, harbors and airports to limit the risk of travelers returning with the infection.” 

Man’s best friend may be the key to safely reopening entire industries. Good boy!

Click below for the other articles in the October 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors