Scientists: dogs can detect COVID-19 in humans almost as accurately as tests
Finnish scientists, who found that dogs find COVID-19 by smell, are enthusiastic in the scientific community, while others are skeptical about a study by Finnish scientists. Although everyone knows about the acute instinct of dogs, he writes DW.
The authors of the new study were specialists from the University of Helsinki: they were the first to train medical dogs, which are used to determine some diagnoses, and to determine the pneumonia COVID-19. After several weeks of training, the dogs distinguished by smell the urine of patients with and without coronavirus, and the percentage of errors was minimal.
“We have been training dogs for a long time, using them to identify a number of diseases,” says Anna Helm-Breckman, who specializes in researching this topic at the University of Helsinki's Veterinary Department. “But this time it was especially gratifying to see how quickly the dogs learned to recognize the smell typical of COVID-19.”
According to Finnish scientists, the accuracy of determining a disease using medical dogs is almost the same as with the conventional coronavirus tests currently in use.
Is COVID-19 dangerous for the dogs themselves?
The experience of researchers in Helsinki is extremely important for other specialists who work with animals, especially in the UK and France, where they are also trying to use dogs for the mass detection of coronavirus infected people.
Colleagues in Germany are also watching the experiment - with interest, but also with some caution.
“No one can tell yet if the training procedure itself with the analysis of infected patients is dangerous for humans and animals,” said Luca Barrett of the German dog training center (Deutsches Assistenzhunde-Zentrum). - Until now, German virologists have warned us against this. Therefore, before starting training with us, we want to collect more information. ”
Meanwhile, Finnish scientists are already moving into the next phase of the study, when the detection of coronavirus will be carried out on a large number of cases. And only after successfully passing this phase will dogs be discussed in their work with patients infected with coronavirus infection.
COVID-19 has a characteristic odor
At the same time, scientists still do not know exactly which substances in the urine of patients “signal” to dogs the presence of coronavirus infection. This is not easy to figure out, especially since SARS-CoV-2 affects not only the lungs, but also the walls of blood vessels, kidneys, and other internal organs of the infected.
German experts also recognize that some diseases have their own specific marker - a special smell that trained dogs recognize quite accurately.
“Dog breast cancer is detected with an accuracy of 93%,” says Barrett, “and lung cancer is 97%!”
With high accuracy, dogs can also capture odors in skin, stomach, and prostate cancers.
Service dogs in hospitals and airports
Compared to humans, dogs have a much finer sense of smell. So, a person has 5 million cells that capture odors, while a dachshund has 125 million and a shepherd has 220 million! Labradors, retriever, cocker spaniels, or shepherd dogs are usually selected for training, then animals are dragged for any one smell. It can be a drug, explosives or a marker of one of the diseases. After the animal recognized this smell during training, a characteristic click is heard and the dog receives an award in the form of her favorite treat.
Medical dogs already work today in hospitals and clinics, but in general are quite rare. As a rule, their owners simply help health facilities on a voluntary basis. In scientific circles, there are both supporters and strong opponents of the use of dogs for the diagnosis of patients. In any case, today even after the dog has detected a suspicious smell, additional studies are required - and only after that the patient is given the final diagnosis.
However, dogs trained to determine COVID-19, so far plan to use not so much in clinics as in airports. This will allow for a short time to conduct a kind of initial examination of arriving passengers, and already those who are allocated service dogs will be sent to test for coronavirus.
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