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  • Can Dogs be Trained to Detect Coronavirus? Scientists Think So!

    August 10, 2020 2 min read

    German Shepherd

    Dogs bruh. Aren't they the frickin' best?!

    Apparently, man's best friend may have a new side gig as COVID-detecting heroes! Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany (in cooperation with the Bundeswehr, the Hannover Medical School and the University Medical-Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf) have found that canines can actually be trained to detect the presence of coronavirus using their super keen sense of smell.

    After just a week of training, eight dogs from Germany's military were able to accurately identify the coronavirus with a 94% success rate, Bloomberg reports.

    active military member kissing dog's headPhoto courtesy Pixabay from Pexels

    The samples were automatically distributed at random to ensure neither the dog handlers nor the on site researchers knew which samples contained the virus and which were used for control purposes. Surprisingly, the dogs were able to identify samples from those infected (virus positive) and those not infected (virus negative / control sample) with an average sensitivity of 83% and a specificity of 96%. "Sensitivity" refers to the detection of the actual virus whereas "specificity" looks at the dog's ability to identify the control samples (aka the virus negative samples).

    “We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed,” Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, a professor at the university, explains in this YouTube clip about the initiative. “We think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell.”

    german shepherd lying down with head on sneakers and boots Photo courtesy AnjaGh from Pixabay

    “People have not really realized the potential a dog could have to detect diseased from non-diseased patients,” says Holger Volk, head of the small animal clinic at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover. Here in the United States, dogs have found excellent job security at airports and other venues sniffing out explosives, narcotics, and all kinds of other contraband. Couple this with their potential newfound ability to detect the virus that's causing today's worldwide pandemic and services from our favorite furry friends may be in high demand very soon. Realistically, (in addition to lab testing) doggos could be employed in high traffic / public areas like places of travel, sporting events, borders, and other mass gatherings to sniff out anyone infected with COVID-19 and help prevent any further outbreaks or spread of the virus.

    While these are just preliminary studies, things appear to be promising. According to Von Koeckritz-Blickwede, the next step will be to train dogs to differentiate COVID-19 samples from other diseases like influenza (aka the flu). Hopefully these good boys (and gals!) are up to the test and pass it with flying colors!

    See what the scientists had to say

    Diagnoses by dog noses – Dogs can sniff out patients with COVID-19

    The video shows Professor Holger Volk, PhD, Head of the Small Animal Clinic of the TiHo und Professor Dr. Maren von Köckritz-Blickwede, Professor of Biochemistry of Infections and Head of Scientific Administration and Biosafety at the Research Center for Emerging Infections and Zoonoses (RIZ) of the TiHo. In addition, the following scientists, who are also collaborating in this study, are shown: Dr. Claudia Schulz and Veronika Pilchova from the RIZ, and Paula Jendrny from the Clinic for Small Animals.

    The publication to the pilot study: Jendrny et al. (2020), BMC Infectious Diseases: https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-020-05281-3

    Written by Robert Dones Jr. for SPIRITHOODS.