Dogs have been shown to be able to detect coronavirus by smelling the armpit sweat of potential carriers of the disease, according to a study published on biological sciences repository bioRxiv.
The study, involving 18 dogs in France and Lebanon, smelled a total of 198 different armpit sweat samples from both positive and negative coronavirus patients. Of the dogs used in the test, four found the right samples 100 percent of the time, and the rest varied, finding the right patient between 83 and 94 percent of the time.
“We conclude that there is very high evidence that the armpits sweat odor of COVID-19 positive persons is different, and that dogs can detect a person infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the authors of the report wrote.
Dogs searching for COVID-19 are trained in the same way as dogs already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing samples in the training room and indicating which contains the disease or infection. The dogs used for this line of work vary, but most of the dogs in this trial were of a similar breed.
“Most of the dogs included in our study are Belgian Malinois Shepherds because it is actually the most represented breed in working dogs [in the region], but we insist on the point that lots of canine breeds or mongrel dogs could develop the same olfactive detection qualities,” the report read.
Throughout the trial, the dogs were very successful in detecting which samples came from individuals that had coronavirus. In two cases where a dog marked a negative sample as positive, when the test was sent back to the hospital and the person retested, they were found to have in fact already contracted coronavirus.
“In many countries worldwide, diagnostic tests are lacking in order to set up a mass detection of COVID-19 contaminant people, we think it is important to explore the possibility of introducing dog olfactive detection as a rapid, reliable and cheap ‘tool’ to either pre-test willing people or be a fast checking option in certain circumstances,” the researchers said.
Specially trained dogs have been tested as to whether they could smell coronavirus over the course of the last few months. In April, a group of researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Durham University, and the Medical Detection Dogs organization began testing dogs with the hope of accurately and rapidly screening for the coronavirus.
“If the research is successful, we could use COVID-19 detection dogs at airports at the end of the epidemic to rapidly identify people carrying the virus. This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control,” Professor Steve Lindsay at Durham University said at the time.