In a German study, dogs trained for just one week correctly identified 94% of infected samples from people with Covid-19.
Trained animals can learn in a week how to differentiate people who have the new coronavirus from those who don’t.
According to the researchers, the animals can help to identify infected people in areas of heavy human traffic, such as airports, sporting events, country borders, and laboratories, helping to contain the spread of the virus or even new outbreaks of the disease.
To conduct the study, the team used eight dogs specialized in scent detection. After training, the animals were able to correctly identify 94% of the 1,012 samples of saliva or throat secretion from people with Covid-19.
They were able to discriminate between them with an average sensitivity (detection of positive samples) of 83% and specificity (detection of negative control samples) of 96%.
Dr. Esther Schalke, a veterinary behaviorist and dog trainer at the Bundeswehr School of Dog handling, said in a statement that dogs’ ability to detect scent is far better than one might imagine. “Nevertheless, we were amazed how fast our dogs could be trained to detect samples from SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals,” Schalke said.
It is already known that infectious respiratory diseases can release specific organic compounds. The results of this study can be a starting point for understanding how dogs can be used for future testing strategies.
“We have built a solid foundation for future studies to explore what the dogs do scent and if they can be used to discriminate also between different disease timepoints or clinical phenotypes,” said Holger A. Volk, department chair of small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover.