Study: Dogs Can Detect Coronavirus in Human Sweat

December 14, 2020 Topic: Health Region: Americas Blog Brand: Coronavirus Tags: CoronavirusPandemicDogsTrainingSymptoms

Study: Dogs Can Detect Coronavirus in Human Sweat

Although the study was limited and the results preliminary, there is promising evidence that suggests these dogs could, in fact, be a cheap and reliable way to screen for the coronavirus.

Several dogs have been successfully trained to detect the coronavirus by sniffing human sweat, according to a new proof-of-concept study out of France and Lebanon.

In the research, which was published in the journal PLOS One, sweat samples from a total of 177 patients from four hospitals in Paris and one in Beirut were used. Among the participants, ninety-five had tested positive for the virus, while eighty-two were negative.

What the researchers were eventually able to accomplish was that they trained six dogs to pick up the specific smell of patients who had positive tests for the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. After weeks of training, some dogs had a success rate of 76 percent, while others boasted perfect scores.

“These results provide some evidence that detection dogs may be able to discriminate between sweat samples from symptomatic COVID-19 individuals and those from asymptomatic COVID-19 negative individuals,” the study’s authors wrote.

By filming the trials, the researchers were able to understand why in some instances the dogs were unsuccessful during the tests. In one particular case, a horse was discovered to have walked nearby a testing site that was situated at a veterinary school, which may have confused the dog.

The researchers, however, admitted that the study was limited and the results preliminary—but the promising evidence suggests that these dogs could, in fact, be a cheap and reliable way to screen for the coronavirus.

“Even if trained dogs are able to correctly discriminate symptomatic COVID-19 positive individuals from asymptomatic negative ones, they should not be considered a perfect diagnostic test—but rather a complementary tool,” the authors wrote.

Other countries have already begun utilizing the special skillsets of dogs. In Finland, a group of sniffer dogs trained to detect coronavirus started working at Helsinki Airport in September, and in Chile, police dogs have been trained to sniff out coronavirus in humans.

In the United Kingdom, a team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is studying whether specially trained airport sniffer dogs have the ability to detect coronavirus in travelers—even before symptoms appear. The UK government already has given the team more than $600,000 to put toward the research.

There have been several reports of dogs getting infected with the coronavirus, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus in the human population.

For extra safety, the study’s researchers did not use any samples for training or testing the dogs within twenty-four hours of collection.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.  

Image: Reuters