Dog noses are great COVID-19 detectors, according to multiple laboratory studies, and the covid sniffing dogs have already started working Airports in other countries and in some events in the United States, such as a Miami Heat Basketball Game.
But some experts in the public health and training of scent dogs say more information and planning is needed to make sure they are accurate in real-life situations.
Cynthia M., director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. According to Otto and one of the authors, “there are no national standards” for scent dogs. New paper on the use of scent dog in detecting covid.
And although private groups certify drug-sniffing and bomb and rescue dogs, similar programs for medical identification do not exist, according to the new paper in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.
There’s no question that dogs have great potential in medical fields, said Lois Priver-Dum, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University and senior author of the paper. But she wants to explore how they can be deployed on a large scale, such as by the government.
“What are all ethical considerations? What are regulatory considerations? How practical is this?” She asked. Not only the quality of detection but also the logistics and cost would be central to any widespread application, as with any public health intervention.
Quality control is a first step, and a big step. Medical odor detection is more complicated than drug or bomb detection, Dr. Otto said. The working dog at an airport to detect drugs or explosives has a consistent context and a fairly straightforward target smell. In detecting COVID, researchers know that dogs can differentiate between the sweat or urine of an infected person. But they don’t know what chemicals the dog is identifying.
Because human smells vary, dogs that are medically identifiable must be trained on many different people. “We have all breeds and ages and diets and these are all things that make a human smell,” Dr. Otto said.
The symptoms of many medical conditions are similar to those of COVID, and dogs that detect a fever or an odor associated with pneumonia will be ineffective. So among the human subjects used in training dogs, Dr. “A lot of people who are negative, but may have a cough or a fever or other things,” Otto said. If dogs mistook the flu for covid, that would clearly be a significant mistake.
In addition, dogs can be trained on sweat, or on saliva or urine. In the United Arab Emirates, dogs worked with urine samples. In Miami, they just walked with a line of people.
Dogs that detect any positive case of covid infection are usually confirmed by what is now the gold standard for confirming the presence of the coronavirus, a PCR test. Review of research published last week however, concluded that the dogs outperformed the test.
But these are experimental results. Dogs do well at detecting explosives and other substances from a distance, but until now Dr. Otto said he was not aware of published research that confirmed that dogs can detect people urinating or sweating. Instead of sniffing in a line.
If the government was to officially administer or approve dogs for COVID detection, some standards would have to be set on how the dogs should be trained and how their performance should be evaluated. Dr. Otto is part of a committee at the National Institute of Standards and Technology which is now meeting to develop standards for dogs to detect odors in a variety of situations, including COVID detection.
She said that even though the standards are clearly set, finding enough dogs to detect odors widely is another hurdle. Trained dogs are not easy to come by. “We lack dogs to detect bombs in this country. We have been dealing with this for years,” she said.
Dogs can be retrained from one scent to another, but this in itself can be difficult. “Some countries are actually taking their dogs who are trained on bombs and training them on Covid. But you know, you just have to think about an airport, if you have a dog that smells both covid and bombs and they alert, what do you have?”
Well-trained dogs are also expensive and require a paying, well-trained human handler. Reportedly, dogs can cost as much as $10,000 and scent training per dog is $16,000. Transportation Security Administration, for example, San Antonio has a $12 million training facility for explosives detection dogs and handlers, and training costs for dogs and handlers are estimated at $33,000 for explosive detection and $46,000 for passenger screening.
All of these issues will determine how dogs are used in the future. His capacity is a given. “I think they absolutely can do that,” Dr. Otto said. “That’s exactly how we implement them.”