A: TL;DR. Dogs have proven their awesome ability to identify the smell of COVID-19 patients, but the logistics and cost are slowing down widespread implementation.
As we’ve reported in prior posts, medical detection dogs have the miraculous capacity to sniff out COVID-19 patients from their sweat, saliva, or urine. This super sniffing power may allow for non-invasive, accurate, and relatively rapid testing in public spaces such as airports, stadiums, malls, schools, and retirement homes. In fact, COVID-sniffing dogs have already been used in airports around the world, including Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Finland. Dogs have also been used in the US to identify infected attendees at a Miami Heat game before ticketholders even enter the arena. NPR also recently reported on covid-sniffing dogs in 5 schools in Massachusetts!
Unfortunately, there have been some challenges with the implementation of a widespread canine team of testers:
* STANDARDS AND ACCURACY CONCERNS: Currently, there’s a lack of national standards for training medical detection dogs, but the National Institute for Standards and Technology is working on developing these. Further, public spaces and humans have many different odors, presenting a much more complex scent profile than in the controlled setting of a laboratory environment. These shifting background scents and other working conditions might reduce the high accuracy rate found among the dogs tested in lab-based studies.
* PRACTICAL ISSUES. Training the dogs is expensive (over $16,000 per dog) and time consuming. If canine testing were implemented widely, there would likely be a shortage of available appropriately trained dogs and trainers. There is already an existing shortage of dogs available for bomb detection.
* ETHICAL AND LEGAL CONCERNS: Finally, there are ethical and regulatory considerations about using animals in this way. What are the implications if the dogs or their trainers get exposed to or spread a disease to others during their time on the job? While these risks appear to be low, safety of both dogs and humans is a priority.
We will continue keeping an eye on this and other innovative testing strategies. See below for a link to our post on COVID-sniffing bees.
Prior Dear Pandemic articles on COVID-sniffing dogs: