German researchers train dogs to detect SARS-CoV-2 in human saliva. And the results are rather encouraging.
We know that some dogs, when trained, can detect the presence of cancer. Others may also smell epileptic seizures or malaria (from sniffing socks). More recently, some have also been shown to be very effective in detecting yellow dragon disease, which ravages citrus crops.
Naturally, some researchers have recently wondered if our best four-legged friends could play a role in the fight against Covid-19 as well.
Several ongoing studies
With that in mind, several works are currently underway to explore how dogs could be trained to detect the new coronavirus. Ultimately, these dogs could present themselves as a first bulwark against the virus, allowing suspect cases to be filtered in public spaces.
Earlier this year we looked at one of these research projects from the UK. A second is also being carried out in France, headed by Prof. Dominique Grandjean, professor at the National Veterinary School of Alfort (Val-de-Marne) and head of the veterinary service of the Paris Fire Brigade (BSPP).
Researchers from the German University of Hannover are also on the scene. The latter have just published their first results in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.
As part of this work, eight tracker dogs were trained for a week to distinguish between saliva samples infected with SARS-CoV-2 and uninfected control samples. Once trained, they were asked to sniff 1012 samples. Some were infected, others were not. Neither the researchers nor the handlers knew which ones tested positive.
In the end, the dogs correctly identified 157 positive samples and 792 negative samples. Conversely, they incorrectly identified 33 negative samples and rejected around 30 positive ones.
Overall, the team found an average sensitivity of 83% for detecting positive samples, and an average sensitivity of 96% for detecting negatives. By upgrading everything, it finally emerges with an overall average detection rate of 94%.
“The results of the study are incredibly exciting,” said Dr. Holger Volk, lead author of this work. This research, he says, will serve as a solid foundation for future studies to analyze what dogs actually smell. Ultimately, it will also be a question of understanding whether or not these can differentiate the different stages of development of the disease.
Born in London, England and raised in Orlando, FL, Elena graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelors’ degree in English. She later received her masters’ in Creative Writing from Drexel University. She writes part-time for the Scientific Origin and focuses mostly on health related issues.