New research has indicated that trained dogs may be more effective in detecting Covid-19 than nasal swab PCR tests.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed Plos One Journal, revealed that the trained canines were able to detect Covid in 97% of symptomatic cases, and almost 100% in asymptomatic cases. These detection rates were better than PCR antigenic tests in both symptomatic and asymptomatic people.
The study used detection dogs provided by French fire stations and the United Arab Emirates that had received three to six weeks of odor detection training before the study. A total of 335 participants from Covid screening centers in Paris also took part – 109 with a positive Covid test and 31 who were asymptomatic.
The dogs were asked to sniff samples of human sweat placed in a special olfaction cone. If a dog then sat down in front of a cone, it meant that they had detected Covid. The study revealed that the trained canines were more sensitive to positive Covid cases. Meanwhile, the nasal PCR tests were better at detecting negative cases.
Speaking to Science News, one of the study’s authors, Professor Dominique Grandjean, from the Alfort National Veterinary School in France, declared that “the dog doesn’t lie.”
Grandjean also highlighted the speed of the dogs’ detection rate. While PCR tests can take several days for a result, the trained canines could sniff-analyze up to 20 samples in 15 seconds.
Research into a dog’s ability to detect Covid-19 is not new. Back in May, UK researchers discovered that specially trained dogs could pick up Covid with 82-94% accuracy. And in 2021, a Florida study revealed an accuracy rate of 73-93%.
This latest study is thought to be the first to directly compare a trained dog’s detection accuracy to antigenic tests. The study authors now believe that using dogs to detect Covid could be a particular benefit for people who may be intolerant to nasal swabbing, including those with Alzheimer’s.
However, some experts believe that putting the latest research findings into practice could be more problematic.
University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Cynthia Otto, who works as director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, told NBC that the idea of a dog sniff-testing people as they walk by is ‘the Holy Grail.’
“Making sure it’s done with all the proper controls and quality assurances and safety is a big step. I haven’t seen anyone who has proposed how to make that transition in a way that’s scientific and safe,” she added.
Trained sniffer dogs are already starting to be used in mass testing sites. In 2021, Miami Airport became the first US airport to utilize dogs to detect Covid, while airports in Finland and UAE have also employed Covid canines.