COVID-Sniffing Dogs Coming to a TSA Checkpoint Near You

Buffy the COVID sniffing dog. Image: FOX13/Youtube

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

COVID tests can be confusing–which type do you need? How accurate are they? For everyone who has suffered through these invasive tests, there’s good news: new evidence shows that dogs are able to sniff out COVID-19. A French study has found that trained dogs could detect the presence of the virus with 97% accuracy , a higher rate than many quick lateral flow tests (LFTs), and on par with more effective polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Why This Matters: In 2020, manufacturers, laboratories, and healthcare providers were overwhelmed with demand for PPE and COVID-19 tests. Long lines, delayed results, and rampant disinformation made COVID testing a battlefield. Despite tests returning results in a matter of minutes, turnaround times surged to three days in November 2020, increasing the chances of unwitting transmission.

I feel like we’re moving chairs around on the Titanic. We’re trying to, you know, move things around to make things work and get everything in order. But we’re on this big ship that’s sinking,” said Melissa Miller, who runs the testing lab at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in November. Critics blame supply chain flaws and delivery delays and warn that to avoid similar challenges in future public health crises, we’ll need to innovate. That’s where our furry friends come in.


Sniff, Sniff, Hooray! The study, published by France’s national veterinary school and Paris’s Necker-Cochin hospital, found that the dogs could detect the virus with 97% accuracy and could identify negative samples with 91% accuracy. Those rates are much higher than the “quick tests,” or LFTs, that detect symptomatic carriers with 72% accuracy and those with no symptoms with only 58% accuracy. “These results are scientific confirmation of dogs’ capacity to detect the olfactory signature of Covid-19,” said the Paris hospital board. 

This study comes after a proof-of-concept study was published in April in the journal PLOS ONE, which showed that the virus has an odor that trained dogs can identify in urine and saliva.

How It Works: This testing process is much less invasive than the standard brain-tickling too. Researchers pressed cotton pads under the armpits of 335 subjects for two minutes, then sealed the pads in jars to be given to the special COVID sniffing dogs. Experts say that this quick, non-invasive test could be implemented in places like airports as the world slowly opens up for international travel. The process could also be much more affordable, utilizing only cotton pads instead of specially manufactured tests and equipment. Australia, Germany, and Britain have also experimented with COVID sniffing dogs, and Finland and the United Arab Emirates launched trials at airports. The Finnish trials were particularly promising, managing to detect COVID-19 with nearly 100% accuracy in less than one minute total.

Just this past week, COVID-sniffing dogs were used to screen attendees at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami FL, a process that could be replicated for other gatherings going forward.

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