Dogs May Offer a Cheap and Quick COVID-19 Screening Option


COVID-19 diagnosis is typically achieved using specialized tests. They are not so easily available that even some airports are offering them for free. The problem is that you have to wait for hours until the diagnosis is confirmed. And most of these tests, thankfully, come back negative. Is there a better way? Scientists at the University of Adelaide say that dogs may help.

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Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, allowing them to detect very minor differences in human VOCs. Image credit: Gaseous Wiener via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and humans have been employing it for hundreds of years. Dogs are now helping in hunting, bomb detection, looking for drugs, tracking people who got lost, and sometimes even detecting diseases. Thing is, when people are sick they emit a particular kind of smell. The difference in that smell is minute, but the dog’s nose is unbelievably sensitive. If scientists could train dogs to detect COVID-19, four-legged friends could work in airports, malls, and other places that attract thousands of people.

Previous researches have shown that people with COVID-19 emit some specific Volatile Olfactory Compounds (VOCs). Scientists have proven that the smell of these compounds is specific enough for dogs to recognize. But it’s not that simple.

Researchers in Australia are now looking for dogs in Detector Dogs Australia, an organization based in Melbourne. Scientists want to find those dogs that are the most effective at recognizing VOCs related to COVID-19. There probably are not that many dogs that can do that well, but scientists are going to look and train them anyway. Most importantly, they want to compare well-trained dog’s abilities to those of standard diagnostic laboratory testing. Some scientists have already performed experiments with some recording a 100% success rate – dogs can really detect if the person has COVID-19.

Sniffing a virus that transmits through the air might not seem like the best idea, but dogs are not susceptible to COVID-19 so it should be safe for both dogs and people. Dr. Anne-Lise Chaber, one of the coordinators of the project, said: “Dogs are trained in the same way as dogs that detect explosives. If results from our local study are positive we will be able to move to the clinical screening phase. According to recent studies, dogs are not susceptible to SARS-CoV2 and the virus cannot replicate in them.”

The reason why scientists want this to work so badly is speed and cost. Dogs could sniff out sick people in crowds very efficiently, making, saving thousands of euros in the process. No waiting for tests to come out, no disposable parts. Just treats for the dog for a good job. 

Source: University of Adelaide

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