As we battle the current Coronavirus epidemic researchers are looking for new ways to detect the virus in others early. There is an overwhelming need for testing on a mass scale. We’re nowhere close to being where we need to be but there is a surprising new way to detect the virus that has recently been discovered. Scientists have long known that dogs possess the ability to detect illness in their own kind through their keen sense of smell. Some years ago, dogs were trained to identify other diseases in humans and they did so with an impressive accuracy rate. Canines have the ability to detect some diseases in people, but is COVID-19 one of them?
There is a British charity called Medical Detection Dogs that has recently partnered with scientists to research the possibility of using dogs to detect COVID-19 in humans. Dr. Claire Guest is the co-founder and CEO of the charity and she believes that it is possible to train dogs to “sniff out COVID-19.” She further ventured that well-trained dogs could assess as many as 750 people per hour for the illness. Six dogs were used in the initial trial and researchers had the dogs sniff the face masks of patients infected with Coronavirus to determine if there is a distinct smell that would be distinguishable by the canines.
If the study is successful and dogs really can detect COVID-19 in humans, there are many ways that the dogs could be used to help contain the spread. They could be stationed at airports, at major sporting and entertainment events, and more. Anywhere large groups of people gather the dogs could help to identify anyone who is carrying the disease whether they present symptoms or not. This could help with the early detection so people who are identified could immediately receive medical testing. It would let more people know when they need to self-quarantine and it could help to decrease the spread of the virus dramatically. This would also help to identify the people who need testing to conserve on testing supplies and use them for the persons who are the most likely to test positive.
Is it really possible for dogs to smell COVID-19?
The belief that this is truly possible comes from the fact that canines have already proven that they can detect other diseases. They are known to smell bacterial infections and Parkinson’s disease. The first stage of the research involves finding out if the insidious COVID-19 emits a distinct odor. It’s the commonly held belief that each disease does put off its own smell. It takes a trained nose to distinguish among them though. The charity has already obtained evidence of this. They’re working with the London Shcool of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as well as northeast England’s Durham University to take the research a step further. The dogs used in the studies have already learned how to detect malaria in infected persons. The researchers claim a high degree of accuracy in the animal detection system for malaria and this offers hope that the dogs will be able to do the same with COVID-19. This study is expected to continue for a 6-week duration and it may yield some promising new detection methods in the battle to help save lives and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A novel but potentially accurate approach
Disease sniffing dogs is certainly not a new concept, but it’s not one that has gained a lot of attention yet. This is a novel approach, but the larger question is if this method could possibly be taken seriously. Experts in canine behaviors will confirm that these animals have natural instincts that tell them if a member of the pack is sick. It’s all through their keen sense of smell and ability to distinguish potentially harmful scents. Any concern about this method conforming to established standards can rest easy. The canine sniffing method for detecting malaria has actually exceeded the requirements and standards for testing established by the World Health Organization. Dogs can also sense small variations in body temperature and they may even be able to detect a slight fever in travelers.
While there are still a lot of unknowns, research is clarifying at least some of the questions. They’re working overtime to attempt to solve the mysteries surrounding this disease and the current research is breaking the problem down to a molecular level. Scientists are attempting to gain a solid working knowledge of the olfactory components of COVID-19 so they have a solid knowledge base to proceed with the training of the canines for this specific task. The group claims that they have already trained five dogs to perform this detection function, and that gives them the potential for screening up to 5,000 persons per day for the COVID-19 virus.
Disease sniffing canines may be our next line of defense should COVID-19 testing supplies become low. From all appearances, the team of scientists is making progress in figuring out how the dogs can detect specific diseases in humans, and they have a high level of confidence that these trained furry testing partners will be able to accurately detect the presence of the virus in humans. This could help in selecting those that have the greatest need for medical screening. What it means is that it help people who are asymptomatic to know sooner if they need to be tested. The potential for preventing further escalation of the disease, and lowering the sickness rate and death toll is certainly something that is worth exploring. Dogs have long been referred to as “man’s best friend.” We’re about to find out if they could possibly end up being our saviors. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing dogs at airports and at other mass transit depots. They will be there to do a job and to help save our lives.