Sniffer dogs train to detect COVID-19

Tuesday, 04 August, 2020

Sniffer dogs train to detect COVID-19

Researchers at the University of Adelaide are working with international partners to train sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19. Previous research has shown that dogs can detect the presence of specific volatile olfactory compounds (VOCs) caused by viral infection in people. The researchers said the study would test the sensitivity and specificity of canine olfactory detection of VOCs induced by COVID-19 in comparison to those of standard diagnostic laboratory testing.

It is hoped that the first COVID-19 detection dogs could be working within months, and would complement existing methods by providing low-cost, instantaneous and reliable screening. In addition to deployment in airports, the dogs could be used to screen staff in hospitals and travellers in quarantine.

Dr Anne-Lise Chaber and Dr Susan Hazel from the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences are coordinating the Australian arm of the international alliance, with local dogs being made available through organisations in various states — such as Detector Dogs Australia based in Melbourne.

Preliminary results from the international team — led out of the National Veterinary School in Alfort, France — show that specialised working dogs can detect COVID-19 VOCs in patients, with some recording a 100% success rate.

Promising indications also show dogs trained in this way are able to identify infected individuals prior to development of symptoms, or in those who are otherwise asymptomatic. This would be a powerful tool for effective control of COVID-19 in Australia.

“Dogs are trained in the same way as dogs that detect explosives. If results from our local study are positive, we will be able to move to the clinical screening phase,” Dr Chaber said.

“According to recent studies, dogs are not susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and the virus cannot replicate in them.

“COVID-19 dog detectors will be a reliable, repeatable, cheap, easy and fast way to screen or pre-screen potential cases.

“This tool will become crucial when borders reopen or if we face another wave.”

Image credit: ©

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