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Specialist Bio-Detection Dogs Can Sniff Out Covid, Study Shows

Specialist Bio-Detection Dogs Can Sniff Out Covid, Study Shows

The new study has sparked hopes that dogs might be able to sniff out Covid-19 on patients.

Joanna Freedman

Joanna Freedman

Dogs could be able to sniff out Covid-19, a new study has shown.

The research, conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), has found that individuals infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus have a specific scent which trained bio-detection dogs can spot.

And it looks as if they can do so pretty accurately, too...

The study was conducted using odour analysis and modelling, and is the most complete study so far of its kind.

It was conducted by the LSHTM alongside the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University, with some funding from the UK's Department of Health & Social Care.

Dogs sniffed out the virus with incredible sensitivity (
Neil Pollock/ MDD)

And the study took place thanks to 3,500 sock and t-shirt donations from NHS staffers and members of the British public, which contained 325 positive and 675 negative odour results.

The research showed that people with Covid-19 have a distinct scent, which can be quickly detected by the dogs.

In fact, the study showed they managed to detect the virus with 94.3 per cent sensitivity (which demonstrates a low risk of false negative results) and 92 per cent specificity (which means a low risk of false positive results).

The dogs were trained over many weeks, gradually being introduced to odour samples from those who had tested positive for Covid-19 (which they received a reward for identifying) alongside negative control samples (which they received a reward for correctly ignoring).

The highest performing dogs were then proven to be able to provide greater accuracy than lateral flow tests (which have an overall sensitivity of between 58-77 per cent).

What a good doggo (
MDD/ BexArts/ Nigel Harper)

While a PCR test is still more sensitive, providing 97.2 per cent chance of no false negative and nine per cent chance of no false positive results, the benefit of the dogs is how quickly they can still produce incredibly trustworthy results, while remaining "non-invasive", scientists say.

The dogs were able to detect odour from individuals that were asymptomatic, or people who had two different strains, or both high and low viral loads.

While the findings are promising, the trial is yet to go to peer-review, and the results were achieved in a controlled environment, so we don't yet know if similar findings could be garnered in the real world.

The potential for the findings is massive, with researchers creating modelling which suggests the clever pups could be used to screen for Covid at ports and other entry sites.

They found that, should everything go to plan, two dogs could check a 300 seating aeroplane in as little as 30 minutes.

This would mean that only the people identified by the dogs would then need to take a precautionary PCR test - a method which would then be estimated to detect more than double the cases currently being found, and prevent further transmission.

Discussing the study, its leader, Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM, said: "The results of this study far exceeded my expectations.

The clever pups could make a huge difference in detecting Covid quickly (
Neil Pollock/ MMD)

"While the mass rollout of vaccines in the UK is a great success, it will take time to achieve the coverage levels needed for our lives to return to near normal.

"With the threat of new variants entering the country, the need for testing means we face potential continued disruption for some time to come.

"That's where these amazing dogs could play a role. Further research is needed to see if the dogs can replicate these results in a real-world setting, but these findings are hugely encouraging."

He added: "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.

"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.

"This study and the exciting potential of using dogs to tackle Covid-19 would not have been possible without the volunteers from the public and NHS, and I want to thank everyone who donated valuable odour samples."

What an exciting find! We'll update you as the research develops...

Featured Image Credit: Neil Pollock/ MDD

Topics: Dog, UK News, Life News, Coronavirus, health news, Covid-19