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The Sniff Test

A testing method for COVID-19 puts the spotlight squarely on man’s best friend.

Can Dogs Save The World?

 

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BACKSTORY

  • The Theory: Diseases have unique “odorprints.”
  • Past research has shown dogs can “sniff out” diabetes, malaria and different forms of cancer.
  • Early in the pandemic, researchers started studying dogs to see if they can detect COVID. Preliminary research shows promise for detecting cases *before* symptoms emerge.
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“As far as we know, no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against COVID-19.”

Director of Helsinki Airport, Ulla Lettijeff, where a recently launched pilot program is using COVID-sniffing dogs. Dogs do not sniff people directly but a wipe given to passengers (to wipe their skin, i.e. neck or wrist) and dropped in a cup. Dogs respond in 10 seconds. Preliminary research from COVID-sniffing dogs used in Dubai's airport shows over 90% accuracy.
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“With covid detection, you are not recognizing the virus. You are recognizing the volatile byproducts of cells dying because they have been infected with the virus.”

Professor of chemistry Kenneth Suslick, University of Illinois, invented an electronic nose to sniff out explosives and diseases. He says research in this area continues to expand. What do dogs actually smell? Chemicals omitted in our sweat, saliva, and breath.
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“Their noses work very differently than ours. We breathe in and out through the same passages. But dogs breathe in one passage and out another so they can separate out the odor that they want to focus on.”

Founder of BioScent K9, Heather Junqueira, a U.S. nonprofit training beagles and beagle-basset hound mixes to sniff out COVID-19. She says ideally a "positive" detection by a dog will be followed with an instant saliva test.
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Those optimistic think dogs may be more accurate than current testing, offering a powerful surveillance tool for returning communities back to "normal" by working at schools, stadiums and airports. Critics say training dogs is too expensive and time consuming to scale effectively.

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