It’s no secret that getting tested for coronavirus in the U.S. is not a straightforward process. However, your first coronavirus detector might not be a medical test at all— it could be a dog.
A University of Pennsylvania research initiative has eight labrador retrievers learning how to sniff out the coronavirus in humans as a method of non-invasive surveillance. Dogs are already employed in the detection of other diseases such as malaria, cancer, and fungal infections, so sniffing out coronavirus really isn’t such a longshot.
Another research project in the U.K. is looking at training dogs to “sniff test” up to 750 people per hour per dog, making quick work of large crowds and long testing lines. The dogs being trained in the U.K. are given masks from COVID-19 patients so they can determine if the coronavirus has an odor that they can consistently detect.
While it’s still too early to know whether these dogs will prove effective at finding coronavirus patients, experts say dogs can identify changes in scent that occur when organs such as the lungs are affected by a respiratory illness.
How do dogs detect illness in the first place?
Dogs have powerful olfactory capabilities strong enough to detect scents at one part per trillion. They are particularly effective at identifying diseases based on odors which are characteristic to that disease.
The grand consensus of the experts who are involved in these research and experimentation initiatives is that if dogs prove adept at finding the coronavirus in people, it will be a large benefit to locations hit hardest by the virus.