Updated: Apr 15
Covid-sniffing dogs have come to the rescue. In Finland, a government-sponsored test program at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, 4,000 people have been tested for Covid (as of December 2020.) If the dog detects a positive case at the airport, the person is sent to the health office for a traditional screening.
Any breed can excel as this life-saving task. These trained dogs can accurately detect the presence of the Covid virus five days before the person is even experiencing symptoms. This is very valuable since 40% of infected people do not experience symptoms, or not that early. Dogs who have experience in other detection scent work, and have excellent noses, can learn to become Covid Detectors after about 6-8 weeks of specific training.
Research into the efficacy of Covid Detection Dogs is being conducted in the U.S., France, Germany, England and elsewhere, according to several stories reported by The New York Times, CNN, and the BBC.
At Helsinki, the dogs are sniffing sweat samples on cloth, so there is no need for direct contact between dog and human.
Some studies give dogs socks to sniff, and some use saliva or breath samples as seen below. It is hoped that with more research, dogs can scan people as they are moving through an area.
Every sickness has a certain odor. While humans may not have the sensitivity to recognize the smell of cancer or Covid, Medical Detection Dogs have been used to detect diabetes, cancer, malaria, Parkinson's Disease, and the presence of e. coli. Some studies report 83% sensitivity or accuracy to detect positive cases, of Covid, and 96% specificity or accuracy of negativity. Other studies are showing 100% accuracy. The canine testing at Helsinki takes about one minute. Some dogs in other programs have been able to test up to 250 cases an hour. This non-invasive test can be fun for the dogs, who get rewarded for their good work. And all of this without the painful nasal swab.
While this method of testing is in the early stage and more research is needed, (such as how to rule out distracting scents, where animals pick up other viruses present), it is quite promising.
This is especially true for environments like airports, malls, schools, and other high-traffic areas. Or for locations where testing is not available! Hello U.S.!
The picture above is Asher -- who had been "rehomed" seven times before he was trained by Dr. Claire Guest, the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, and is now one of her star performers. Dr. Guest reminds people that this work is still in its early stages and should be considered a "complementary tool" until more studies are finalized and published. However, CNN has just published a proof of concept, and I hope more support for this research will come soon. If only more of the challenging adoption cases in shelters could be trained for these live-saving tasks!
Dogs sensitive noses can detect the presence of odor at the rate of a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic size pool. Some Covid Dogs are trained to sniff armpits -- which is very pleasurable for them, and causes giggles in humans -- so it could be the perfect way to test kids!
If you needed another reason to love and respect our Canine Companions, here is just one more way they have to save the lives of humans, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Thank you to all the Medical Detection Dog Teams, Trainers, and researchers who are taking The Human-Animal Connection to the next level.
These Covid Detection Canines are the modern-day heroes that are saving the day!
But Do Your Part! Wear a Mask! Stay Safe! Keep others safe and follow science-based guidelines!
Hurrah! for Medical Detection Dogs.
Check out our Newsletter to find out when the next Canine Covid Detection Zoom Workshop will be happening!
Here is a Zoom Session we did on Jan 30th 2021 on The Canine Covid Connection. Here is the link.
Read this article by Genie Joseph and Mara Aspinall of Arizona State University.
Genie Joseph, PhD
The Human-Animal Connection