Can your dog detect COVID-19, even asymptomatic cases, more reliably than a rapid test?
According to a new peer-reviewed academic study, published in PLOS ONE, that seems to be the case – assuming your dog is sufficiently trained, of course.
Dogs and COVID
Since the start of the pandemic, many have wondered if perhaps man's best friend can detect the presence of man's most recent enemy, the novel coronavirus.
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the famous sense of smell possessed by our canine companions.
COVID-19 testing can be difficult. Testing centers often face massive lines for PCR testing, while home rapid tests are often invasive, uncomfortable and more importantly, not always accurate.
As such, in order to stop the spread of infection of the deadly virus that has spread all over the world, an effective and unintrusive method is needed to detect it.
This is not the first study to test how dogs can help detect COVID-19.
A 2021 study published in the academic journal Forensic Science International: Synergy found that dogs, if they get a month of training, could detect positive COVID-19 cases with 73%-93% accuracy.
This was followed up by another study published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Global Health that studied dogs used to detect COVID-19 at the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport in Finland. That study found that dogs were 92% successful.
Another study in the UK gave dogs an accuracy of 82%-94%.
But this new study claims to have achieved an accuracy of nearly 100%.
The researchers examined five dogs trained to sniff out COVID-19 by examining both positive and negative tests to see if they could tell.
Regarding positive tests, the dogs were very accurate and quick. Negative tests were less accurate, just 91% accuracy, but that could also be due to the dogs seemingly being able to detect infection before a PCR test would pick it up as positive.
How does this work?
Certain chemicals exist called volatile organic compounds, which are gases that tend to be exuded from the body in the form of breath, sweat or saliva. COVID-19 has volatile organic compounds and they contain coronavirus proteins.
Now, these are impossible for a regular human to detect. However, dogs are another story, thanks to the Jacobson's organ that helps it detect seemingly odorless smells.
The training itself can be hard though, and it can be complicated by how the smell of a real person can be different from the smell of a sample.
But the study does still show a lot of promise, especially because it is supported by a wealth of prior literature and because they are less invasive and more immediate than rapid tests.
The researchers also propose using it in locations such as nursing homes, airports, sporting events and schools.
However, further research and testing will need to be done to determine if we will one day have watchdogs against COVID-19.
Gadi Zaig contributed to this report.