Dogs are known for their strong sniffers that are estimated to be at least 10,000 times more powerful than human noses. Those powerful canine snouts may come in handy to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new study out of France found that dogs were able to detect the presence of the virus with 97% accuracy, better than many rapid lateral flow tests. The research was conducted in March and April by the National Veterinary School of Alfort and the clinical research unit at Paris’ Necker-Cochin hospital.
Professor Jean-Marc Tréluyer told French news agency AFP, “These are excellent results. But the test with dogs is not meant to replace [polymerase chain reaction tests], but rather to target people who would benefit from virological screening and to facilitate mass screening because of the rapid response of dogs.”
The study included 335 people, 109 of whom tested positive through a PCR rest. When they went in for their tests, researchers had them place compresses in their armpits for two minutes and then put the compresses in jars. At least two different dogs who had not interacted with the participants smelled each sample.
The dogs were able to detect the virus in 97% of the positive cases, while correctly identifying 91% of the negative cases. For comparison, a recent study of 64 lateral flow tests found that LFTs correctly identified 72% of positive cases with symptoms and 58% of cases without symptoms.
Similar tests of COVID detection through dogs were performed earlier this year in Beirut and Paris. Of the six dogs who were trained to sniff out the virus, their accuracy ranged from 76 to 100% across dozens of trials. In fact, two of the dogs kept marking the samples of two negative tests. When these patients were retested, they were both found to be positive.
The findings may be useful in settings like airports or other areas where tests faster than PCRs are needed. However, they won’t be a primary testing method any time soon.
The study noted, “Even if trained dogs are able to correctly discriminate symptomatic COVID-19 positive individuals from asymptomatic negative ones, they should not be considered a perfect diagnostic test — but rather a complementary tool.”
Health experts note that larger studies are needed to further test the dogs’ accuracy.
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