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The Sniff Test: Can Dogs Keep Us Safe From COVID-19?

May 25, 2021

British researchers might have found a new way to bio-detect COVID-19 that's more reliable than rapid tests, faster than PCR tests and suitable for use at mass gatherings or airports around the world. All it took was some sniffer dogs and smelly socks worn by people infected with the coronavirus. The trained dogs, working in teams of two, detected COVID-19 on human clothing with 94 percent accuracy. Rapid tests, meanwhile, are 58 percent to 77 percent effective. PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests are more sensitive, at 97 percent, than the the sniffer dogs yet they can't match the dogs' less-than-a-second speed. The dogs also produced results with 92 percent specificity, a low risk of false positives. The study, led by disease control specialist James Logan at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was published this week online before being peer-reviewed. Pilot program in Chile, Finland and Germany already use COVID-trained sniffer in airport trial programs. The dogs' training, which takes 8-10 weeks, includes being introduced to 200 odor samples from 200 COVID-positive people and 200 control samples from COVID-negative people. Once on a plane, fully vaccinated travelers this summer should feel safe. “Being on a plane itself does not increase your risk," says Dr. Faiqa Cheema, a Hartford HealthCare infectious disease specialist. "We know that because the airlines follow high-quality standards for purification of the air and the filters they use are like those we use in the hospital for patients who have COVID-19 and are placed in isolation.”