Detecting COVID-19 going to the dogs?

Six Labrador Retrievers trained to detect the COVID-19 virus in human sweat were unleashed in a six-month project in Thailand that saw a 95 per cent accuracy rate at sniffing out infections, says a Reuters report

“The dogs take only one to two seconds to detect the virus,” says Professor Kaywalee Chatdarong, project leader at the veterinary faculty of Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University. He adds that means canines could be deployed to rapidly track coronavirus infections at airports.

“Within a minute, they will manage to go through 60 samples.”

The project involved having the dogs sniff a spinning wheel of six canned vessels containing infected human sweat. It emerged they can identify a “volatile organic compound secreted in the sweat of COVID-19 sufferers, even in the absence of disease symptoms,” says the report.

The dogs don’t need to sniff travelers directly. Instead, they would put their noses to work screening samples.

“The next step is we will put them out in the field,” said Kaywalee. “In the future, when we send them to airports or ports, where there is an influx of commuters, they will be much faster and more precise in detecting the virus than temperature checks.”

Chile, Finland, and India are other countries that have also launched efforts to get sniffer dogs to detect the virus, with a German veterinary clinic saying last month its sniffer dogs had achieved 94% detection accuracy in human saliva.

A proof-of-concept study published in December 2020 found dogs can be trained to detect the novel coronavirus in human sweat, says a CNN article that notes they already are identifying colon cancer, malaria, and Parkinson’s disease. 

Based in France and Lebanon, the study used 14 dogs trained in explosive detection, search and rescue, or colon cancer identification, says CNN. Their success rate was between 76 to 100 per cent; the dogs trained with colon cancer were 100 per cent.

The dogs tagged two human subjects who had tested negative for the virus. They subsequently were found to be positive, says the report, adding the study authors warned to use this as a complementary tool rather than a diagnostic test.

While there are a few reported cases of dogs becoming infected with the coronavirus, the CNN story says there is no evidence that they play a part in the spread.

The CNN report adds that many countries are exploring the potential of using dogs to prescreen people at airports and other transportation hubs.