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Dogs successfully trained to detect COVID could prevent virus spread at airports and travel centers

This article is automatically translated from the original language to your language. Do not hesitate to let us know if it contains translation errors so that we can correct them as soon as possible.

Man’s best friend has an incredible sense of smell. Dogs are respected olfactory connoisseurs, with up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their muzzles (compared to 40-19 million in humans) and XNUMX% more brain space to analyze smells. Fido can detect the slightest odor better than any artificial instrument. It’s a super canine ability that we’ve used to find missing people (call it Lassie), locate illegal drugs and dangerous compounds like explosives, and catch contraband items. And now we are using it to eradicate COVID-XNUMX.

In a new study published Monday in the British Medical JournalA group of Finnish researchers have found that dogs trained to detect coronavirus can detect it with nearly 100% accuracy in airport travellers, raising hopes that our furry friends aren’t just catching COVID infections in crowded public spaces or transportation hubs – places with a higher risk of virus transmission – but also hospitals and even schools.

“This is a very important study showing that COVID-19 detection dogs can achieve greater than 90% accuracy and sensitivity, which is comparable to current testing methods but much faster,” said Kenneth Furton, a biochemist at Florida International University who was not involved in the study but has previously investigated the use of dogs to detect COVID infection, The Daily Beast said in an email. “COVID-19 sniffer dogs provide results in seconds rather than minutes or hours, allowing large numbers of people to be screened without delay.”

The idea of ​​using the sense of smell to diagnose diseases goes back to antiquity. A human’s sense of smell alone isn’t strong enough, but a dog’s might be. Studies have shown that our four-legged friends can smell volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are specific chemicals produced by the human body and found in our blood, urine, feces, skin, or breath.

Dogs have been trained to recognize VOCs specific to diseases like epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, and infections caused by pathogens like malaria. When the pandemic hit, scientists speculated that the dog’s sensitive nose would also be able to smell COVID. And that seemed to be the case – several preliminary studies carried out in France, Great Britain, Germany and the United Arab Emirates revealed that people infected with the virus had a particular smell of sweat that uninfected people lacked and that the dogs could detect.

In the new study, Finnish researchers took previously trained sniffer dogs and taught them the smell of coronavirus sweat. The four dogs then had to sniff more than 420 skin swabs – a quarter of volunteers tested positive for COVID and the rest of those who tested negative. The results were impressive: the trained sniffers had a combined diagnostic accuracy of 92% in detecting which samples were infected and which were not.

The dog noses were later used again, this time when screening passengers at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport. During an approximately four-month pilot program in the fall of 2020, dog sniff tests were compared to 303 COVID-PCRs of incoming travelers. The 296 swabs identified as negative by the PCR tests were also identified as negative by the dogs, meaning their accuracy was nearly 98%. There were three positives that the dogs missed – one due to the alpha variant, which the dogs weren’t trained to smell.

There are still important questions that still need to be answered. For one thing, scientists still don’t know the specific VOCs associated with COVID. Another is what these results mean for populations with a High Prevalence of COVID-19 as there was not much virus among the airport passengers studied. The Finnish researchers estimate that in high-prevalence hypothetical scenarios, such as those you might see in a hospital or assisted living facility at the height of an outbreak, dogs still have fairly high accuracy, with 88% for cases. positive and almost 95%. The percentage of negative cases has cases. However, further studies with much larger data sets are needed to see if this is true.

There is also the possibility of training large groups of COVID-19 detection dogs around the world and for different variants. For example, dogs in the Finnish study could not detect a single positive case causing the alpha variant because they were accustomed to the original coronavirus variant without major mutations.

“We didn’t think dogs would distinguish between different variants,” Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman, a veterinarian at the University of Helsinki and lead author of the study, told The Daily Beast in an email. “But with this information, we now know that even the smallest changes in pathogens require retraining with these new variants. This new information is crucial for the next outbreak. At the same time, there’s no need to worry because we know it’s quick and easy to retrain dogs that can already detect human disease.

Tracker dogs could still be a promising avenue for rapid, effective and potentially life-saving detection, especially if COVID is here to stay. In the United States, Furton and colleagues at Florida International University conducted two pilot programs testing COVID-19 sniffer dogs at Miami International Airport with promising results. Already-trained dogs are being used in some Massachusetts schools to detect COVID on surfaces. And some made their cute, albeit celebratory, appearance at a Miami Heat basketball game in February 2021. And while COVID-19 can spread to pets that have close contact with humans , dogs appear to be largely immune to infection. Man’s best friend could become our greatest tool in the fight against COVID. successfully trained to sniff out COVID could prevent the spread of the virus at airports and travel hubs

This article is automatically translated from the original language to your language. Do not hesitate to let us know if it contains translation errors so that we can correct them as soon as possible.

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