Sniffer dogs are 94% accurate at detecting Covid-19 far better than rapid tests and could be deployed at airports, stadiums, workplaces and public events to find people who don’t realize they are infected.
Researchers found coronavirus has a ‘distinctive odour’ that means specially-trained medical detection dogs can identify infected people, even those without symptoms.
Working in teams of two, the COVID-trained dogs could screen a line of several hundred people coming off a plane within half an hour, for example, and detect with up to 94.3% sensitivity those infected, the scientists said.
Presenting results of an early stage study – which involved some 3,500 odour samples donated in the form of unwashed socks or T-shirts worn by members of the public and health workers – the researchers said the dogs were even able to sniff out asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases, as well as cases caused by a mutant variant that emerged in the UK late last year.
“Dogs could be a great way to screen a large number of people quickly and prevent COVID-19 from being re-introduced into the UK,” said Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University’s department of biosciences who worked on the study.
The dogs in the UK study were trained over several weeks by being introduced to 200 odour samples from people who had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 200 control samples from people who tested negative.
Independent experts cautioned that the findings would need to be replicated in real-world situations.
“This proof of concept study suggests that trained detection dogs could be used in places like airports, sports stadiums and concert venues,” said Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick University.