In the current COVID-19 crisis where it can be challenging to get an accurate test result depending on the disease stage, countries have been looking at whether dogs could sniff out people infected with COVID-19. If this were the case, the dogs could have multiple uses at airports, events, and other large gatherings of people.
Dogs have already been proven to detect various human diseases such as cancer merely using their sense of smell. A 2019 study showed that dogs could use their highly evolved senses to pick out blood samples from people with cancer with almost 97% accuracy. A dog’s nose has 300 million scent receptors, compared to 5 million in a human. This means they can detect many odors, such as drugs, explosives, and food. This makes dogs a common site in airports where they are often walked up and down a queue of passengers to detect illicit substances. In the UK, a project backed by the UK government has started to train dogs to detect COVID-19 positive patients by smell.
Currently, travel is a problem for governments with different methods such as single or double tests and quarantine of varying lengths being used alongside travel bans to stop imported cases. Governments need to start allowing travel for the economy to thrive, but no options are 100% safe and also palatable to the majority of travelers. If dogs could be trained to sniff out COVID-19 in airports with a high degree of accuracy, it could be the silver bullet needed. Dogs can handle a large number of passengers quickly and at relatively low cost and inconvenience to travelers.
In the UAE, police dogs have already been used in airports as an additional defense in detecting COVID-19 cases. This is the first country in the world to trial the method alongside more traditional prevention with pre-travel testing. The technique used in the UAE is unusual as it avoids any direct contact between the dogs and the persons under examination. The specialized teams monitor the checking of samples taken from arriving passengers from their armpit without direct contact with the dog. It is believed that the trained dog can very quickly determine whether the person is likely to be infected or not.