The Canine Potential in Rapid COVID Testing

Dogs Can Sniff Out the Virus, UCSB Researcher Says

Credit: Ariel Bussani/Unsplash

Can dogs sniff out COVID-19? According to a UC Santa Barbara professor emeritus, the answer is yes.

Tommy Dickey is an oceanographer who retired from UCSB’s Geography Department when cancer sidelined him in 2013. He also handled three Great Pyrenees as therapy dogs — frequently bringing the big, white, furry dogs on campus for students and faculty to enjoy — and decided to get involved in scent research when COVID hit.

Dickey teamed up with Heather Junqueira, who was already engaged with her beagles and bassett hounds in COVID research with BioScent. She’d previously published papers on her dogs’ ability to detect certain lung cancer cells. Their findings were published in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine this month and are an analysis of four papers that determined canines could detect COVID-19 in the 80 to 90 percent range on average. The dogs’ strength is that they could sniff out the virus within minutes.

“The dogs are basically smelling the sweat of the person,” Dickey told The Current, UCSB’s media publication. The dogs — 16 Belgian Malinois, a German shepherd, and a Jack Russell terrier — in a French and Lebanese study had an 83-100 percent accuracy rate in positively identifying the virus in the odor of armpit sweat.

“Current research supports the use of scent detection dogs for pilot COVID-19 screening studies involving humans in venues such as airports and sporting events,” Dickey said. One group of researchers in the U.K. included in their study a plan to train virus-sniffing dogs and deploy them at points of entry. Dickey suggested that “medical electronic noses” were a possible line of research to attempt to replicate dogs’ incredible ability to smell. See the full story here.

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