That is to a dog!
It was only a matter of time before the dog’s supreme sense of smell came to the aid of COVID-19 hunters!
A dog has a sense of smell that is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than that of a human.
But back to COVID-19.
Here’s an article from the Smithsonian.
Dogs Are Being Trained to Sniff Out COVID-19
Researchers are attempting to teach eight dogs to detect the pandemic, which could help quickly screen large numbers of people in public places
By Alex Fox smithsonianmag.com
May 1, 2020
Dogs are being enlisted in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are testing a pack of eight Labrador retrievers to find out if their sensitive snouts can detect the pandemic virus by scent, Karin Brulliard reports for the Washington Post.
Humans have trained our canine friends’ finely tuned noses to sniff out other deadly diseases, including malaria, diabetes, some cancers and Parkinson’s disease, reported Ian Tucker for the Guardian in 2018. Other research has shown that viruses give off a particular smell, Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center at UPenn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, tells the Post.
If the dogs’ 300 million scent receptors can be trained to smell the novel coronavirus they could eventually be used in public places such as airports, businesses or hospitals to quickly and easily screen large numbers of people. Because this diagnosis by dog would depend on the smell given off by people infected with COVID-19 it should have no problem picking out asymptomatic carriers.
The yellow, black and chocolate labs will be trained for three weeks using a process called odor imprinting. Miss M., Poncho and six other dogs will be exposed to COVID-19 positive saliva or urine collected from hospitals and then rewarded with food when they pick out the correct samples, according to a statement from UPenn. When the dogs have the scent, they’ll be tested to see if they can pick out COVID-19 positive people.
“We don’t know that this will be the odor of the virus, per se, or the response to the virus, or a combination,” Otto, who is leading the project, tells the Post. “But the dogs don’t care what the odor is. … What they learn is that there’s something different about this sample than there is about that sample.”
Dogs are also being trained for this purpose in the United Kingdom by the charity Medical Detection Dogs in collaboration with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reports the BBC.
“This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control,” Steve Lindsay, public health entomologist at Durham University, tells the BBC.
The U.K. trial expects to start collecting COVID-19 positive samples in the coming weeks and will train its dogs shortly thereafter, per the Post. If the trial is successful the group aims to distribute six dogs to be used for screening in U.K. airports.
“Each individual dog can screen up to 250 people per hour,” James Logan, epidemiologist at Durham University and collaborator on the project, tells the Post. “We are simultaneously working on a model to scale it up so it can be deployed in other countries at ports of entry, including airports.”
Otto tells the Post that the trial could inspire an electronic sensor that could detect COVID-19 which might be able to rapidly test thousands of people. But if the dogs’ olfactory prowess can’t be replicated, then the ability to scale up could be limited by another issue: the U.S.’s shortage of detection dogs.
The list of fabulous skills that dogs have and their ability to help us humans out is practically endless.
To be more to the point, if dogs really can make a difference in determining who has got COVID-19, especially at airports, then this is a step to eventually returning to a more open and normal lifestyle.
May it happen!
I would like to close by returning to that NOVA article and republishing the following:
Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.
16 thoughts on “The smell of COVID-19!”
That is amazing news. If they can sniff cancer, know when a person is going to have a seizure then it only stands to reason that they would be invaluable with targeting COVID-19.
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Susan, the extent to which detection dogs use their skills is amazing. One of our dogs, Cleo, a GSD and not formally trained, is still amazing at sniffing out many things. I have used her on numerous occasions.
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I wonder what the evolutionary benefit was that gave dogs such an acute nose?
Well Colin we know that it comes from wolves and I suspect it is to do with them hunting for food. There’s an interesting article here: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/the-canine-sense-of-smell/ that spells out how much of a dog’s brain is devoted to smelling and that they have an organ specifically for smell. Fascinating!
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Thanks for that link! Wow, that’s certainly an in-depth article. But it doesn’t really answer my main question as to why this extremely sensitive sense of smell developed. Maybe food was scarce, and they needed to be able detect it from a great distance? Perhaps it’s just one of those great unsolved mysteries.
Let me do more research because you ask an important question.
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It’s not as easy or simple as one thinks. Every link returned by Google speaks of the how rather than the why. I’m using my iPad and not at my desktop so will research some more later on because my desktop computer is an easier machine to fine tune!
I’ve tried very hard, using my desktop computer, to find an explanation of why dogs have such incredible smell. In other words, not the process by which they smell but the reason that the dog/wolf developed it. But I can’t get anywhere close to finding out why. Maybe something for others to research?
Just another reason why I love dogs, they are incredible!!!
So true, Lee, they are incredible!
Paws crossed for this kind of medical breakthrough!🤞🏼
Yes, we could certainly do with a re-emerging climate of certainty. If that makes sense?
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Fascinating and very useful info, Paul. Thanks for sharing!
Well I had hoped for more, Tony, but it’s not an easy find. Quite a few animals have this extreme sense of smell and I suspect it comes from seeking out food. I still would like to find out.
Thanks brilliant news!
Welcome Malcolm to this place and we hope to see you again soon. By your email address I suspect you are not unfamiliar with training dogs!