A: As noted in prior posts, highly trained dogs have the incredible capacity to successfully detect the odor of people with COVID-19 by sniffing human sweat.
Pilot programs using COVID-sniffing dogs to detect infection among potential passengers have already launched in airports in Finland, the United Arab Emirates, and most recently Chile. These pilot projects are exciting and promising, but there are several reasons why dogs have not yet been deployed everywhere.
Here are some key obstacles:
TRAINING TIME: It takes 3-6 months of intensive training to teach a novice dog to be a COVID-sniffer. And not all dogs will make the cut. Thus, we need a lot of time, training, and treats to prep a pack of pups.
REAL-WORLD CIRCUMSTANCES: What happens in the laboratory is decidedly more controlled than what happens in an actual busy, noisy, and smelly airport. One key difference is that in the laboratory, approximately 1 out of 6 samples of sweat are COVID-positive. Thankfully, in any general population, there won’t be as high a percentage of positive cases. Unfortunately, pups do not maintain their accuracy when there is inconsistency in the ratio of positive to negative samples. Similarly, viral load in the real-world context may be lower and not as easily detected by the laboratory-trained dogs.
POTENTIAL RISKS TO DOGS AND HUMANS: If COVID-sniffing dogs have close contact with infected humans, we still don’t know the full risks regarding exposure of the virus to the dogs and possible transmission back to humans. Most evidence to date indicates that these risks are low.
These challenges and risks need to be better addressed before we introduce a fleet of COVID-detection dogs into the airports.
The Nerdy Girls remain ever impressed by the talented trainers and clever canines involved in these studies.
Prior Dear Pandemic medical detection dog posts: