MAISONS-ALFORT, France — While a vaccine for the coronavirus will help stop the pandemic’s spread, finding everyone who may be carrying the virus is still an issue. Luckily, man’s best friend is now on the case. Researchers in France are helping to specially train dogs to detect people infected with COVID-19 — by sniffing their armpits.
A new study that has seen pilot programs spring up around the world has discovered that dogs can sniff out coronavirus in the sweat of humans. Thanks to their famously acute sense of smell, dogs have been rooting out drugs, explosives, and even successfully pick up diseases like cancer for years.
The French scientists are now showing how our furry friends can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting virus clues. An early experiment suggested canines could be between 75 and 100 percent effective at detecting the disease with their noses.
Dogs paw-trolling airports for COVID?
The technique has already been piloted in several countries including the UEA, Lebanon, Finland, Australia, and elsewhere. Travelers may already have seen the specially trained dogs at some airports, but researchers are still trying to prove without a doubt that dogs can pick up the scent before the method is fully adopted.
The team behind the study hope their findings will mean dogs could help with COVID aid in parts of the world without the infrastructure for expensive mass testing programs. The loveable animals could be used anywhere however, with the hope that invasive nasal swabs could be replaced by a simple sweat sample taken from under the armpit for a dog to sniff.
Mass testing alternative?
Professor Dominique Grandjean, from the National Veterinary School of Alfort in France, says the dogs could check a large number of people in a short period of time.
“The results are good and I’m happy, really happy,” Grandjean says in a statement, per SWNS. “It is a success technically and scientifically and it’s surprising because we didn’t know what we were going to have as results.”
“We have been validated by the World Health Organization and they have given us a bit of money which is good. “Probably the country which is the most advanced now is the UAE, where they have dogs in three international airports. They are deploying some mobile units to go to the villages and to the people that might be more exposed to the virus,” the professor explains.
“For us here the idea was, of course, the airports but I can imagine a small city having a couple of dogs and just saying to the population ‘you can be tested whenever you want.’ You just come and put a swab under your armpit and give that to the dog and he will tell you yes or no. The dogs would be able to do that very quickly on a large number of people.”
Ending the pandemic one sniff at a time
Grandjean adds that dogs could also be used where people are reluctant to have uncomfortable nasal swab tests. During the study, which started in March, the researchers recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out bombs, colon cancer, or used in search-and-rescue missions and re-trained to detect COVID-19.
They then collected sweat samples from 177 people (95 with COVID-19 and 82 without) and then placed the samples inside cones for the dogs to sniff. In trials, the dogs successfully picked out the infected sweat when examining a line-up of mock and negative samples.
Although the published study is just a “proof of concept” and cannot be taken as absolute proof, Prof. Grandjean and his team have now carried out further studies to validate their results and have more planned in 2021. They have also issued a “practical guide” to other academics to help others in their research and are building up a set of “international training standards” for dogs.
“We have been working with lots of countries. I think we have 20 countries working for us. It’s amazing, really amazing,” Prof. Grandjean concludes.
The study was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.