Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science has trained the first-ever group of dogs to sniff out COVID-19 in patients, claiming that they can identify even asymptomatic infections with 95% accuracy.
Researchers took sweat samples from COVID-19 patients, using cotton swabs and sweaty socks, and put them in cans for the dogs to sniff out.
Kaywalee Chatdarong, the head of the research project and the faculty’s associate dean for research and innovation, explained that dogs immediately sit up when they smell a sample containing COVID-19.
“Since dogs’ sense of smell is 50 times better than humans, we decided to train Labrador Retrievers as they have long snouts, a good sense of smell, and are friendly,” she added.
Prof. Dr. Kaywalee said the six dogs trained to sniff out COVID-19 were 94.8 percent accurate in detecting asymptomatic patients, adding that the technique was also being used in other countries, including Finland, Australia, Germany, and France.
“In the future, we will train dogs to detect patients with other diseases, such as diabetes, depression, malaria and Alzheimer’s,” Prof. Dr. Kaywalee added.
Monitoring symptoms, including checking the temperature in people with a fever, can help detect infections. However, dogs could identify potential asymptomatic cases.
Assoc. Prof. Somporn Techangamsuwan explained that patients’ sweat was used in the research and confirmed that the process had been entirely safe.
She also added: “The project has three stages – training dogs to identify Covid-19 patients, running the tests at airports, jetties and popular tourist attractions, and developing new Covid-19 screening devices.”
Prof. Dr. Kaywalee Chatdarong touted the project, which was sponsored by Chevron Thailand, as the first medical dog training scheme in the country.
She said the dogs could help authorities detect non-symptomatic cases in a crowd. The trained dogs are expected to be deployed at airports and tourist hotspots, where people will be asked to allow the dogs to sniff their feet.
The news about the ability of dogs to detect COVID-10 broke last year.
Since then, research teams in France and Germany have developed projects to train canines and scale up the approach.
Late last year, veterinary neurologist Holger Volk at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover in Germany stated: “No one is saying they can replace a PCR machine, but they could be very promising.”