Scientists working with the US Army claim to have trained canines to detect COVID-19 infection before a quick test can confirm it.
The Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center researchers point to promising results from a proof-of-concept study to see if canines’ greater sense of smell can identify the virus.
“We’re harnessing that scent-detection capability and figuring out how far we can take their limits of detection,” Jenna Gadberry, a research scientist at the center, said in a press release announcing the study’s progress on Friday.
Researchers are hoping the study will show how to use dogs to find COVID-19 positive individuals in large military gatherings. They’re also hoping the study will provide lessons for how to detect future diseases or biological threats.
“So far, the levels they have been able to detect have been astounding,” Gadberry said.
The study involves participants being tested for COVID-19 and then sending in T-shirts they had worn overnight.
Researchers are now analyzing data from the shirts that will be used to test if dogs can sniff out volatile compounds in sweat to determine if a person has COVID-19 but is asymptomatic.
The eight dogs — seven Labrador retrievers and one Belgian Malinois, ages 2 to 7 — were selected for the study based on their motivation and focus levels.
“Utilizing this capability would be good for the Army in many ways, especially whenever they have large-area exercises or a large number of people who have to be congregated in one place,” Patricia Buckley, chief of the center’s biochemistry branch, said in the statement.
“We’re looking to see if we could have a way to promote the safety of warfighters in large gatherings by screening while they’re in that element,” Buckley said.
Dogs have been trained to detect bombs, help with search and rescue operations and even detect colon cancer.
Late last year, research emerged showing that dogs could also sniff out COVID-19 in human sweat.
The research offered a more efficient way of screening hundreds of people in crowded settings than conventional testing methods. But most of the findings still need to undergo peer review and large-scale studies, Nature reported in November.
But that hasn’t stopped some organizations from turning to dogs for COVID-19 screenings.
Earlier this year, the Miami Heat used trained dogs to screen fans for the virus at FTX Arena, which was then called American Airlines Arena.
NASCAR has also used dogs to detect COVID-19 among essential personnel for its Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.