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Dogs can detect COVID-19 with 94% accuracy

New research shows that even when individuals are asymptomatic, dogs may be trained to identify more than 90% of Covid-19 infections. Their incredible sense of smell can detect the equivalent of half a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized pool, and they’ve already been demonstrated to detect diseases like cancer, malaria, and epilepsy. Dogs’ ability to detect SARS-CoV-2 has been demonstrated in previous experiments. The goal of the new research out of the London School of Tropical Medicine was to discover if dogs could identify a specific odor from chemical substances linked to Covid positive persons. 


They collected clothes and face mask samples from persons who tested positive for mild or symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Sock samples from 200 Covid-19 cases were gathered and grouped in six lab tests with six trained dogs. 

The new research shows that even when individuals are asymptomatic, dogs may be trained to identify more than 90% of Covid-19 infections. Their incredible sense of smell can detect the equivalent of half a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized pool, and they’ve already been demonstrated to detect diseases like cancer, malaria, and epilepsy. 

Dogs’ ability to detect SARS-CoV-2 has been demonstrated in previous experiments. The goal of the new research out of the London School of Tropical Medicine was to discover if dogs could identify a specific odor from chemical substances linked to Covid positive persons. 


The researchers collected clothes and face mask samples from people who tested positive for mild or symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. Sock samples from 200 Covid-19 cases were gathered and grouped in six lab tests with six trained dogs. 


The group of dogs included Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Cocker Spaniel breeds. The dogs ranged from ages four to six years old and were trained for six to eight weeks.


“These are dogs that absolutely just love searching,” said Dr. Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs. “They’re also very friendly and they enjoy working in public places.”


Overall, the dogs were able to correctly identify 94 to 82 percent of SARS-CoV-2 samples. The study discovered that screening arrivals at terminals like airports using dogs could detect 91 percent of cases, resulting in a 2.24 times lower incidence of transmission than using PCR testing alone. 

“The results are extremely exciting,” said James Logan, a project lead on the study,” said co-author James Logan. “The key thing is that dogs are significantly quicker than other tests.” 

“What we’re suggesting is that dogs would give the first initial screening, and then those (arrivals) that were indicated as positive would then receive a complimentary PCR test.”The study’s authors expressed optimism that it might someday eliminate the need for tourists to quarantine. According to the researchers, less than 1% of passengers on a plane carrying 300 individuals were statistically likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. All 300 would be required to isolate under present quarantine standards in some countries, causing great difficulty. Given the sensitivity of trained dogs, a maximum of 35 people on board would be indicated as positive. Of these, only around 3 would be expected to return a positive PCR test.

“This is a really important start and could lead to a useful, usable system,” said Mick Bailey, professor of Immunology at the University of Bristol.

“But there’s a lot more validation needs to be done before we could be confident that the dogs can reliably and specifically detect asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection in people in airports and train stations.”

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