As Australia battles through consecutive waves of COVID-19, dogs helping us battle COVID offer some great Doctor news that will steer us out of the pandemic.
Dogs aren’t known as man’s best friend for nothing. Not only do they offer companionship, loyalty and become the much-loved fur babies for many, but they are also being used in certain healthcare settings.
Famously known for their sense of smell, dogs and their many olfactory nerve cells have been used to assist with police cases, and drug and explosive detection.
But their super doggy nose can also potentially offer even more assistance to us, particularly when it comes to healthcare, and maybe even COVID.
The use of dogs to ‘sniff out’ disease is not new. Canines are best-known for their use in cancer detection, particularly skin, breast and bladder cancer. A 2006 study saw five dogs trained to detect cancer based on breath samples.
The stunning result? The dogs were able to detect breast cancer with 88 per cent accuracy and lung cancer with 99 per cent accuracy.
Since then, dogs have gone on to be used across a range of other health conditions, including pre-empting seizures, narcolepsy detection, warning diabetics when blood-sugar levels are dropping and in migraine detection.
Dogs and COVID detection
Given the success healthcare researchers were having using dogs in this range of illness-detection settings, scientists began wondering whether dogs might be used to detect COVID.
While there haven’t been a huge number of published scientific journal articles about this, a joint French-Lebanese study in 2020 trained 18 dogs in COVID detection and then used the two best performers in a trial.
After screening nearly 1700 passengers at a Lebanese airport, the dogs detected 158 COVID cases, then confirmed via PCR tests. Importantly, the dogs detected negative cases with 100 per cent accuracy and positive cases with 92 per cent accuracy.
Another published German study returned similar results, identifying positive cases 83 per cent of the time and negative cases 96 per cent of the time. While these two separate findings are insufficient around the more rigorous testing and trials required in scientific research, they offer the basis for further investigation.
This occurred at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine in early 2021. A proof-of-concept study, published in the PLOS ONE journal in April 2021, sought to investigate whether dogs could detect a unique odour of COVID in urine or saliva. It found that dogs could successfully discriminate between infected and uninfected samples, noting, however, that a fair degree of training with a large number of positive and negative samples would be needed for a dog detection program to be rolled out.
Dogs are joining the COVID detection team
Since these studies occurred, various countries around the globe have begun training dogs to detect COVID.
And other countries are also developing COVID-detection skills amongst dogs, including France, Britain, Chile, Belgium and Germany. Australia has joined this group.
Aussie dogs in the fight against COVID
A team of six Aussie dogs are part of this growing worldwide trend to add canines to COVID-detection strategies.
A feasibility study run out of Adelaide Airport by the Australian Border Force in June among incoming travellers follows a similar trial at Sydney Airport International Terminal in March. Both are part of a bigger research alliance led out of France.
While results won’t be released until later this year, the accumulated evidence across all these studies bodes well, showing that man’s best friend might also prove his best animal aid in helping defeat the COVID pandemic.
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