Dogs can sniff out Covid-19 infections in patients, study finds

Man’s best friend could be the key to helping save lives during the pandemic.

A new study by University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover found that dogs with several days of training are capable of identifying people infected with Covid-19.

Eight detection dogs were trained for one week to detect saliva or tracheobronchial secretions of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients in a randomized, double-blinded and controlled study.

The pilot project showed that the dogs accurately identify the virus with a 94% success rate. Researchers presented the dogs with 1,012 randomized samples to sniff out Covid-19 in the saliva of the samples.

Dog’s nose up close

“We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed,” Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, a professor at the university, said. “We think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell.”

“Sniffing dogs try to detect Covid patients and differentiate them from healthy people,” von Koeckritz-Blickwede said.

According to Von Koeckritz-Blickwede said that the next step will be to train dogs to differentiate Covid samples from other diseases like influenza.

Dogs, which have a sense of smell around 1,000 times more sensitive than humans, could be deployed to detect infections at places such as airports, border crossings and sporting events with the proper training, according to the researchers, potentially preventing an outbreak.

The study was conducted jointly with the German armed forces, the Hannover Medical School and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.

While the study did not specify the breeds for each dog, it did feature a video of a Labrador Retriever in a detection session.

A Labrador up close

Dogs continue to be key players in the fight against coronavirus.

Earlier this month, it was reported that police in Chile were training dogs to detect people that may be infected with the novel coronavirus by sniffing their sweat.

Meanwhile, Medical Detection Dogs, a British charity set up in 2008 to harness dogs’ sharp sense of smell to detect human diseases, also started training canines to detect Covid-19 in late March. In April, a prized sniffer dog went through trials in London to see if she can sniff out the coronavirus. 

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