Sniffing Out Covid

Dogs have been man’s best friend since before anyone can remember. Now, while man fails to find a solution to Covid-19 and how to test in an effective way, dogs may be the simple answer man is looking over.

According to Understanding Animal Research, dogs have 220 million scent receptors,  215 million more than humans. Their excess number of receptors also contributes to their sense of smell being 10,000 times more accurate than humans’.

This accuracy allows canines to sense the slightest change in the human scent. Therefore, when a human’s scent adapts due to disease, Canines can sense the alteration.

In a 2006 study, dogs were trained to sniff out lung cancer and had a 99 percent accuracy. More recently, a study was conducted in which dogs picked out blood samples of people with cancer. The canines had an almost 97% accuracy.

This same logic has been applied to study how dogs could potentially diagnose Covid-19. The University of Helsinki have discovered that dogs can sense  disease in an infected person five days before any symptoms appear.

The Helsinki airport is now utilizing dogs to test for Covid-19. They screen passengers after baggage check,  supplying passengers with a napkin to wipe their body down with. Then a dog sniffs that napkin behind a screen. If the test is negative, the person passes, if it is positive, they scratch it. There is always a positive control sample in the room for accuracy.  

Passengers are also required to take a free nasal test. The results of the standard test are sent to passengers in a day or two, but the dogs can tell  the wipe sample in just a few seconds.

Veterinary researcher at the University of Helsinki, Anna Hielm Bjorkman said, “A dog could easily save so many lives.” Adding that their testing has produced an accuracy result of almost 100%.

The dogs are also cost efficient. “Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million euros a month at the moment,” Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, a trained physician said, “These dogs would be much cheaper.”

Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover supports the movement of dogs testing subjects on a regular basis. He believes that as of right now it is the most effective way to do it, but is doubted by doctors.

Despite the backlash, Volk  continues his work, because he believes in his cause, “If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example” he said, “think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace”.

The same logic is now being applied in Beirut, Lebanon, where Dr. Riad Sarkis of St. Joseph University noticed that COVID wards had an unusual smell. He thought that smell detection would be a better way to diagnose and began looking into dog studies.

The dogs they used in the study were Belgian Malinois, a variety of a Belgian Shepherd. These dogs were trained to pass a negative COVID test and sit in front of a positive test.

“With standard test we have accuracy of around 70%,” said Dr. Sarkis, “with well-trained sniffer dogs the accuracy is 98% to 100%”

Doctors doubt the preciseness of dogs being the main tester for COVID around the world. Yet, the majority of studies provide evidence that dogs may be more accurate and faster than the testing program we have in place right now.

Your dog at home relies on you for everything. To take them on walks. To refill the food bowl. To even let them out to relieve themselves. Now may be the time we start to rely on them.

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