LONDON - The Medical Detection Dogs charity had a hunch last year that man’s best friend could be used to detect COVID-19. Now, they’ve got the data to prove it.
A recent study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found specially trained dogs can rapidly, noninvasively detect a COVID-19 infection with up to 94.3% sensitivity and up to 92% specificity.
"These fantastic results are further evidence that dogs are one of the most reliable biosensors for detecting the odour (odor) of human disease. Our robust study shows the huge potential for dogs to help in the fight against COVID-19," said Dr. Claire Guest, chief scientific officer at Medical Detection Dogs.
Researches said COVID-19 has a distinct smell. And they used hundreds of odor samples donated by the public and the staff at Britain’s National Health Service.
Over the span of several weeks, researchers presented six of seven trained dogs with samples from 200 people who tested positive for the virus and 200 samples from those who tested negative.
A blinded handler, positioned behind a one-way screen, conducted the test. Dogs received rewards for correctly indicating a positive sample and correctly ignoring negative samples.
Sniffer dog Sammy takes part in a training to detect the COVID-19, at the K-9 Detection Center, in Bredene, Belgium, on March 3, 2021. (Photo by JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images)
Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM, led the study and said the results "far exceeded" his expectations. He acknowledges that these results came in a controlled laboratory setting and more research is needed to see if they can be replicated in the real world.
Even so, he called the findings "hugely encouraging." If the findings are ever replicated in real-world settings, these results could lead to dogs being used to test for the virus at ports of entry or other sites.
"The advantage of using this method is being able to detect COVID-19 with incredible speed and good accuracy among large groups of people, even in asymptomatic cases," Logan said. "This really could help us get back to doing the things we love sooner, safely and with less disruption, such as helping to reduce queuing times at border points or sporting events."
The findings are not yet peer-reviewed, but they are consistent with findings in other studies conducted on dogs’ ability to sniff out coronavirus.
A French study conducted by Scientists at The National Veterinary School of Alfort found dogs 97% effective in detecting COVID-19 in human sweat.
Similar studies are underway in many countries, like Australia, Germany and the United States.
This story was reported from Atlanta.