In a new study from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that specially trained detection dogs can sniff out COVID-19-positive samples with 96% accuracy.
They found the dogs could do that, but training must proceed with great care and, ideally, with many samples.
For example, dogs can be trained to discriminate between the odors of COVID-positive, -negative, and -vaccinated individuals based on the volatile organic compounds they leave on a T-shirt worn overnight.
In the study, the team used SARS-CoV-2-positive samples from adult and pediatric patients, as well as samples from patients who had tested negative to serve as experimental controls.
Eight Labrador retrievers and a Belgian Malinois that had not done medical detection work before were used in the study.
First, the researchers trained them to recognize a distinctive scent, a synthetic substance known as universal detection compound (UDC).
When the dogs consistently responded to the UDC scent, the team began training them to respond to urine samples from SARS-CoV-2 positive patients and discern positive from negative samples.
The negative samples were subjected to the same inactivation treatment—either heat inactivation or detergent inactivation—as the positive samples.
The team found that after three weeks of training all nine dogs were able to readily identify SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, with 96% accuracy on average.
The researchers ran into many complicating factors in their study, such as the tendency of the dogs to discriminate between the actual patients, rather than between their SARS-CoV-2 infection status.
The dogs were also thrown off by a sample from a patient that tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 but who had recently recovered from COVID-19.
The team says besides confirming that there is a SARS-CoV-2 odor that dogs can detect, future training should entail large numbers of diverse samples and that dogs should not be trained repeatedly on the samples from any single individual.
If you care about COVID-19, please read studies about long-lasting immunity after mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection and findings of this health problem is the leading risk factor for COVID-19 hospitalization.
For more information about COVID-19 treatment and prevention, please see recent studies about the biggest risk factors for COVID-19 death and results showing that this old drug could prevent lung damage in people with COVID-19.
The study is published in PLOS ONE. One author of the study is Cynthia Otto.
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