- Title: Trained on smelly socks, bio-detection dogs sniff out COVID-19
- Date: 24th May 2021
- Summary: MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND, UK (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF MEDICAL DETECTION DOG LYING DOWN
- Embargoed: 7th June 2021 11:47
- Keywords: Claire Guest Dogs detect Covid Durham University Medical Detection Dogs founder Professor Steve Lindsay trained sniffer dogs detect SARS-CoV-2 virus with up to 94.3% sensitivity
- Location: MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND, UK / UNKNOWN LOCATION
- City: MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND, UK / UNKNOWN LOCATION
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Europe,Science
- Reuters ID: LVA006EEBMJQ3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Sniffer dogs trained using smelly socks worn by people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus could soon be used at airports or mass gathering venues to pick up the "corona odour" of COVID-19-infected people, British scientists said on Monday (May 24).
Working in teams of two, the COVID-trained dogs could screen a line of several hundred people coming off a plane within half an hour, for example, and detect with up to 94.3% sensitivity those infected, the scientists said.
Presenting results of an early stage study - which involved some 3,500 odour samples donated in the form of unwashed socks or T-shirts worn by members of the public and health workers - the researchers said the dogs were even able to sniff out asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 cases, as well as cases caused by a mutant variant that emerged in the UK late last year.
"We were interested in developing a rapid and accurate test for Covid and our previous work using dogs showed that we were able to detect people with malaria by their scent so we thought, at the beginning of the pandemic, let's see whether our dogs can detect people with Covid by their smell," said Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University's department of biosciences who worked on the study.
The British research, published online on Monday before being peer-reviewed, adds to other pilot projects in Finland, Germany, Chile and elsewhere which are trialling COVID-trained sniffer dogs at airports.
The dogs in the UK study were trained over several weeks by being introduced to 200 odour samples from people who had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as 200 control samples from people who tested negative.
"Out of ten people with Covid, the dogs would be able to pick out nine on average. So that's a really a quite high level of precision," Lindsay said.
The highest performing dogs in the trial detected coronavirus odour in the samples with up to 94.3% sensitivity, meaning a low risk of false negative results, and up to 92% specificity, meaning a low risk of false positive results.
This accuracy is higher than recommended by the World Health Organization for COVID-19 diagnostics, Logan's team said, with the dogs outperforming lateral flow tests, which have an overall sensitivity of between 58% and 77%.
"This could make a huge difference as we start to come out of lockdown and people start to travel and will hopefully assist in getting us all back to a more normal life as soon as possible," said Claire Guest, founder of the Medical Detection Dogs charity.
Independent experts cautioned that the findings would need to be replicated in real-world situations.
(Production: Stuart McDill / Kate Kelland)
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