Dogs Can Sniff Out COVID-19

Photo: Susanna Paavilainen, University of Helsinki

Scent detection dogs may be the best tool for finding and fighting the spread of COVID-19, according to some promising new research at the University of Helsinki.  A group of trained medical scent detection dogs has now been trained to differentiate between a COVID-19 patient’s urine sample and the urine samples of healthy individuals, just as in the past these dogs have been trained to identify different types of cancers.  The researchers believe, based on their initial results, that the dogs can be trained quickly and are even able to perform better than the current COVID-19 tests that are based on molecular techniques.

Why This Matters:  COVID-19 detecting dogs could be immensely helpful in rooting out the disease in places where it might otherwise be hard to detect, such as sporting events, airports to find the virus on surfaces, and border crossings, and places where early detection is important, like nursing homes and retirement communities, and by helping to screen people within the medical care sector who test positive so as to avoid unnecessary quarantines for those who have been exposed.  The sooner we can detect that a person has contracted COVID-19, the sooner we can keep everyone else safe.

Dogs Can Detect Many Health Conditions

Dogs are able to detect many diseases effectively because their sense of smell is far superior to that of humans — we have about 5 million olfactory cells, but dogs have hundreds of millions more — a 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.  Plus, dogs inhale much more often so they are constantly supplied with new odor particles that they can quickly discern with their olfactory cells.

According to researchers, some diseases, like cancer and diabetes, for example, can be detected by trained dogs.  Researchers have found in one study that dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability and lung cancer with a 97% probability, and other cancers too, just less reliably.  Unfortunately, dogs with this training are not readily available, but they could be, but first, the researchers must determine whether the training with the aggressive virus is dangerous or not for humans and dogs.

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