Dogs are being trained to detect COVID-19 in Thailand, France, Britain, Chile, Australia, Belgium, Germany, and other countries, and preliminary studies "suggest that their detection rate may surpass that of the rapid antigen testing often used in airports and other public places," The New York Times reports. Cells infected with COVID-19 have a specific scent that dogs can sniff out in seconds, even if the person doesn't have symptoms.
"For dogs, the smell is obvious, just like grilled meat for us," Dr. Kaywalee Chatdarong, deputy dean of veterinary research and innovation at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, tells the Times. The six Labradors being trained at Chulalongkorn University accurately detect the COVID-19 virus 96.2 percent of the time in controlled settings, university researcher say, and studies have found results almost that impressive in Germany and the United Arab Emirates.
The researchers hope that dogs can be deployed at transportation hubs, stadiums, and other crowded public places to find people infected with COVID-19, or used to sniff out clusters of cases in cities and other communities. Proponents say dogs are not only more accurate at detecting COVID-19, they are also much faster and cheaper than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
Researchers still have practical and scientific questions about the utility of deploying dogs as COVID-19 detectors — what happens if a dog gets infected with the coronavirus and loses its sense of smell, for example? — but all testing methods have strengths and weakness, and the dog research is ongoing. "COVID isn't going away, and there will be new variants," Lertchai Chaumrattanakul, a Chevron official who works with the Thai researchers to adapt drug-sniffing dogs for COVID-19, tells the Times. "Dogs want to be helpful, so let's use them."