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Dogs can sniff COVID-19 infection before symptoms set in, research suggests

During the International K9 Team online workshop. it was revealed that the dogs in Finland and Lebanon were able to detect COVID-19 infection days before conventional tests could. This could mean that canines have the ability to detect spot infection much before symptoms start.

November 24, 2020 / 06:42 PM IST
Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP

Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP


Several studies conducted since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have suggested that dogs can sniff out the novel coronavirus to perfect accuracy. Scientists say that the superior sense of smell of canines may even aid in containing the spread of the deadly disease that has infected millions worldwide.

Trials are presently being conducted at airports in the United Arab Emirates, Finland, and Lebanon. Sniffer dogs stationed at these airports were being used to detect COVID-19 in sweat samples of passengers.

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During the November 3 International K9 Team online workshop, it was revealed that the dogs in Finland and Lebanon were able to detect COVID-19 infection days before conventional tests could. This could mean that canines have the ability to detect spot infection much before symptoms start.

Riad Sarkis, a surgeon who is a part of one such training programme, said two sniffer dogs stationed at Lebanon airport screened 1,680 passengers and detected 158 COVID-19 infections that were later confirmed by RT-PCR tests. The dogs reportedly identified 92 percent of the COVID-19 positive cases.

A study titled ‘Scent dog identification of samples from COVID-19 patients’, published on July 23, had stated that “volatile organic compounds produced during respiratory infections can cause specific scent imprints, which can be detected by trained dogs with a high rate of precision.”

According to the study, dogs were able to discriminate between samples of COVID-19 positive and negative individuals with great accuracy.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Several other studies have also suggested the same, but none of these have been peer reviewed. So, dogs are still not being used to carry out the task. However, canines are being trained across the world based on the study findings, so that they can aid in coronavirus detection efforts in the future.

According to a Nature.com report, scientists involved in the training have said that dogs could come of great help in detecting COVID-19 positive persons at busy public places. They would reportedly be able to screen hundreds of human beings per hour at busy areas such as airports and markets. Not only would the process be fast, but also cheaper than most other techniques that involve the usage of complex machines and kits.

However, veterinary neurologist Holger Volk, who is leading an effort to train and study coronavirus-sniffing canines, said this does not mean dogs can replace RT-PCR machines in the future. He said: “No one is saying they can replace a PCR machine, but they could be very promising.”

Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here
Moneycontrol News
first published: Nov 24, 2020 06:42 pm

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