In the past, we wrote about a research project in the UK where scientists were exploring how dogs could be trained to sniff out signs of the novel coronavirus. A similar venture has been undertaken by researchers at the University of Hannover, Germany, where a team found that with little training, sniffer dogs were capable of detecting the virus with a high degree of accuracy.
Scientists have previously tapped into the incredible nose sensitivity of dogs for a number of purposes, including detecting cancer, malaria, and explosive devices. By exposing the animals to samples in a room and teaching them to distinguish between those that are infected and those that aren’t, the hope is that dogs can become a powerful screening tool in public spaces to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
To investigate these possibilities, the German researchers recruited eight specialized sniffer dogs, which have been trained over the course of one week to distinguish between some 1,012 samples infected with the novel coronavirus and uninfected controls. The samples were randomly distributed so neither the researchers nor the dog handlers knew which were positive.
The dogs correctly identified 157 positive samples and 792 negative samples, while incorrectly identifying 33 negatives and incorrectly rejecting 30 positives. All up, the team notes this makes for an average sensitivity (detection of positives) of 83 percent, an average specificity (detection of negatives) of 96 percent, and an overall average detection rate of 94 percent.
“The results of the study are incredibly exciting,” says study author Professor Holger Volk. “We have created a solid foundation for future studies to investigate what the dogs smell and whether they can also be used to differentiate between different times of illness or clinical phenotypes. ”