This is taking dog training to a whole new level. Believe it or not, researchers are teaching a pack of dogs to sniff out the distinctive sent of COVID-19. That’s right! Read on to learn more about this amazing – and adorable – scientific advancement in coronavirus defense!
New Line of Coronavirus Protection
As the coronavirus hit the entire world hard over the past year, scientists rushed to develop ways to quickly and accurately who had the disease and who did not. Now, they’ve come up with one of the most interesting ideas yet: dogs that can sniff out COVID-19. Currently, the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine is hard at work determining if dogs can help aid the fight. Although it might sound strange, the scientific journal PLOS ONE recently published a proof-of-concept study around the idea. According to the study, the virus has an odor that trained dogs can identify!
Of course, if dogs can accurately detect the sent, they could patrol airports or other public spaces. “Our big question is, can we translate this into an operational usage?” asked Cynthis Otto, director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Working Dog Center. “Can the dogs screen people? I think that’s a potential benefit.”
In case you didn’t know, dogs have a smell around 5,000 times better than our own. In fact, they can sniff out early signs of other diseases, including Parkinson’s and malaria, among many others. These diseases carry volatile organic compounds, which the dogs can smell out. So, can they do the same for COVID-19? Well, researchers are hard at work trying to find out!
Training A New Type of Sniffer Dog
Penn researchers are trying to train the dogs to sniff out COVID-19 via sweat. The procedure is actually pretty simple: the researchers have a variety of sweaty t-shirts, as well as some distractors like toys and boxes. Only a single t-shirt has been worn by a person who had the coronavirus within 48 hours of wearing it. If they can train the dogs to successfully pick out the right t-shirt, then they can likely teach them to sniff out the coronavirus.
This ability could even give scientists an insight into how to create other COVID-19 recognizing devices. “I think there certainly is potential there,” says Anna Durbin, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. For instance, they could be used to help create electronic devices, not unlike breathalyzers, that could quickly identify the coronavirus.
However, while Otto understands that people feel excited at the prospect, she’s not rushing her job. “A lot of people are excited about having COVID-19 detection dogs,” Otto explained, “but we need to be thinking about the right dog for that job—a dog that’s going to be reliable and also not get bored with it.” Thankfully, studies have proven that COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through sweat. So no need to worry about the dog’s health!