Dogs Can Sniff Out the Coronavirus With 96% Accuracy

The new research could revolutionize how we screen for the virus with the help of our best friends.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Labrador retriever Poncho smells the samplesPat Nolan/Penn Today

Dogs! They're man's best friend and for good reason. They are cute, cuddly and it now turns out they can also sniff out the coronavirus with 96% accuracy.

We already reported on another study that said that dogs can smell the virus in human sweat. This research, however, saw the dogs perform at 76% to 100% accuracy.

Now, a new study is showcasing an even better way for dogs to detect the virus.

“This is not a simple thing we’re asking the dogs to do,” Cynthia Otto, senior author on the work and director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Working Dog Center, said in a statement.

“Dogs have to be specific about detecting the odor of the infection, but they also have to generalize across the background odors of different people: men and women, adults and children, people of different ethnicities and geographies.”

The researchers trained the dogs to discriminate between the odors of COVID-positive, -negative, and -vaccinated individuals based on the volatile organic compounds they leave on a T-shirt worn overnight. They dubbed their work: the T-shirt study and are now expanding it to include even more samples.

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“We are collecting many more samples in that study—hundreds or more—than we did in this first one, and are hopeful that will get the dogs closer to what they might encounter in a community setting,” Otto added.

In the study, eight Labrador retrievers and a Belgian Malinois were trained first to recognize a distinctive scent, a synthetic substance known as universal detection compound (UDC), and then moved up to responding to urine samples from SARS-CoV-2 positive patients.

After three weeks of training, the team found that the dogs were able to identify SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, with 96% accuracy on average. The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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