Trained dogs can identify COVID-19 by sniffing for skin sticks: study – KION546
Trained dogs can identify COVID-19 by sniffing for skin sticks: study – KION546

Trained dogs can identify COVID-19 by sniffing for skin sticks: study – KION546

By Alexandra Mae Jones, writer

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Toronto, Canada (CTV network) – Dogs have been trained to sniff out bombs, drugs and even cancer. Now, a new study has found that dogs may also be able to detect COVID-19 simply by smelling of skin sticks.

In a study published last week in the journal BMJ Global Health, researchers in Finland trained four sniffer dogs to select whether a person had COVID-19 or not, and found that the dogs were 92 percent accurate.

Even when taken into a real world – an airport – the dogs were able to correctly identify passengers as negative for COVID-19 almost every time.

“Scent dogs can provide an invaluable tool for limiting viral spread during a pandemic, and serve, for example, in air and sea ports,” said Anu Kantele, professor of infectious diseases and chief physician at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, in a press release. “Such a reliable, inexpensive approach to quickly screen a large number of samples or to identify passing virus carriers from a large crowd is of value, especially when the testing capacity of traditional approaches is insufficient.”

Scent detection dogs have been trained to use their sense of smell to identify and locate substances or individuals.

Since the onset of the pandemic, several researchers and organizations have theorized that dogs may be able to help identify COVID-19 cases quickly by using their superior sense of smell. Several institutions even began training dogs to identify the scent of the virus.

But few studies have tested this ability in the real world.

In this new study, the researchers wanted to do just that by first training a set of dogs to identify samples of COVID-19, then testing their skills in a laboratory setting before finally presenting them for the final test: bringing the dogs to an airport. to screen them. passengers.

The four dogs trained for this study – three labrador retrievers named Silja, Rele and Kosti, and a white shepherd named ET – all had previous experience with scent work.

They were trained using samples provided by inpatients and outpatients who had been recruited from Helsinki University Hospital.

A skin sample meant a strip of gauze that volunteers had washed on their neck, neck area, forehead and wrists.

When the dogs showed that they could recognize the smell of a positive COVID-19 case, researchers introduced samples of patients who had complex factors such as asthma, cancer or diabetes to see if the dogs would still be able to see , who had COVID-19 or not, even with these competing elements.

To indicate a positive test, the dogs would show their handler a signal that had been decided during training. One dog pawed in the direction of the positive sample, another froze and put the paw to her nose after sniffing for a positive sample, and the other two were trained to sit to signal a positive sample.

In the second phase, the dogs’ abilities were tested in a laboratory environment.

Researchers designed a study in which neither the dog, the dog handler, nor the researcher who presented the swabs to sniff would have any idea which of the samples were positive cases and which were negative, in order to reduce the possibility of bias.

The dogs sniffed an identical set of samples to enable comparisons between dogs.

In this phase, the dogs sniffed 420 samples in total – 114 COVID-19 patient samples confirmed by PCR test and 306 control samples from healthy individuals.

The dogs were able to recognize whether a sample was positive or negative correctly 92 percent of the time.

The last part of the experiment was run at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantass International Airport. At the airport, a specially designed stall was installed at the arrival terminal to copy the stall in which the dogs had been trained and accustomed.

Between September 2020 and the end of April 2021, more than 10,000 travelers and airport employees participated in the trial, of which 48 of the dogs were rated positive for COVID-19.

Out of this large sample size, 303 travelers or airport staff agreed to participate in the validation part of the experiment and take a PCR test as well as give the dogs a cotton swab to sniff.

Using data from the 303 individuals, it was found that the dogs were 98.7 percent accurate in identifying whether a sample was negative for COVID-19.

One limitation is that the number of people who tested positive for PCR in the airport trial was so small that the researchers could not come to a clear picture of the dogs’ accuracy in the form of positive cases. However, the dogs were presented with samples known to be positive throughout the airport experiment as a way to keep them familiar with the scent they were looking for, and researchers said the dogs’ ability to recognize these samples was quite high.

Overall, the research seems to indicate that dogs can be easily trained to identify COVID-19 with a high level of accuracy – something that could be useful in situations where it is imperative to understand a person’s positive or negative status quickly.

“Our research team will continue to investigate how scented dogs can best help our community. We hope that this recently published study will help allocate funds for the development of this new ‘tool’, ”said Anna Hielm-Björkman, Head of the DogRisk Research Group and one of the authors of the study, in the Communication. “There are many other diseases where research can benefit from the excellent sense of smell that these dogs have.”

Researchers pointed out that even when dogs were fighting, it highlighted their very picky abilities.

“I was particularly impressed with the fact that dogs performed worse with samples we had collected from patients suffering from a disease caused by a variant of coronavirus,” Kantele said. “The explanation is simple: the dogs had originally been trained with the original wild-type virus, and therefore they did not always identify the variant samples as positive. This reveals their incredible ability to discriminate.”

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