If you have COVID-19, you smell a certain way. Can dogs then smell coronavirus and let you know whether you’re infected?
In the United Arab Emirates, police dogs can conduct rapid COVID-19 testing by smelling body odor samples, SF Gate reported. Results of the tests are available within minutes and with a 92% accuracy rate.
The dogs are used in the Dubai International Airport to screen travelers before entering the country. U.A.E visitors cannot enter the country unless they test negatively for COVID-19.
Upon arrival, travelers enter a special testing site, where healthcare workers swab their armpits for a body odor sample. Then they take the sample to another room, where the trained canine sniffs it. If they test positive, they next have to take the usual nasal COVID-19 test to verify the results.
The canine test is just an extra layer of precaution for now, according to SF Gate. No one can board a flight heading to the U.A.E. without getting a negative test in advance.
While the canine sniffing in Dubai is the first time it has been used in a real-world environment, these are not the first dogs to successfully learn how to smell COVID-19.
In July, German researchers successfully trained eight dogs to identify the virus in just five days, CBS News reported. After sniffing the saliva of 1,000 people, those dogs had a 94% accuracy rate. The German scientists explained that dogs could identify the virus by scent because the body undergoes a metabolic change when infected.
“We think this works because metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient is completely changed, and we think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell of the metabolic changes that occur in those patients,” Dr. Maren Von Köckritz-Blickwede said in a YouTube video about the study.
Von Köckritz-Blickwede said the scientists next want to learn how to teach the dogs to differentiate between COVID-19 and other diseases, like the flu.
In April, it was reported that researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were also trying to teach dogs how to smell coronavirus on patients. Meanwhile, Finland has employed 16 dogs to screen for COVID-19, though by the end of September only four were good enough to begin working.
This is not the first time a canine’s incredible sense of smell has been used to identify a disease. Wired reported that health experts can train dogs to identify several diseases, including cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, and malaria.
Canine testing could help countries around the world test people faster than ever before. Testing in the United States has been criticized because it can take 5-7 days to receive a result. That delay has complicated contact tracing efforts and lengthened the time before a person who has COVID-19 is aware of it and begins to self-isolate.
At the very least, venues like schools and airports could implement trained dogs to test people more quickly and often.