The University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterninary Medicine has launched a new initiative that's set to test whether scent detection dogs can properly sniff out COVID-19 in patients, according to a press release.
The study, which the school states "will explore the sensitivity and specificity of [the] scent," would be particularly useful in detecting the disease in asymptomatic patients, or in areas where more formal testing isn't as readily available.
Note that dogs have 50 times the smell receptors of humans (300 million versus 6 million) which is simply a fancy way of confirming what you already knew, that they have great noses. Hence the reason they're always digging in your butt.
Preliminary screenings involving trained dogs and real people could start up as early as July.
Penn Vet says that they'll begin the study with eight dogs, and that these dogs will be exposed to the virus in a lab setting, through saliva and urine samples, over the course of three weeks. If they're able to detect the difference between positive and negative samples in a lab setting, then they'll be further tested to see if they can identify the virus in sick people.
“Scent detection dogs can accurately detect low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, associated with various diseases such as ovarian cancer, bacterial infections, and nasal tumors. These VOCs are present in human blood, saliva, urine or breath,” said the director of Penn Vet's Working Dog Center, Cynthia Otto. “The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial. This study will harness the dog’s extraordinary ability to support the nation’s COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread.”
The program is similar to one that has now been utilized in the U.K. since March. That program came about after the British charity Medical Detection Dogs teamed up with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as well as Durham University, to see if the animals could determine who had COVID-19 using just their nostrils.
Dogs are already used to detect other diseases, so Medical Detection Dogs' CEO and co-founder, Dr. Claire Guest, reasoned they could probably detect COVID-19 too.
Guest went on to estimate that dogs could sniff out up to 750 people every hour (that kind of sounds like a lot, but I guess she's the doctor), which would obviously help with testing.