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Nearly two months after dogs started being trained to sniff out COVID-19 in the U.K., a similar program is coming to the U.S.
A program from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine is testing to see if dogs, which have 50 times the number of smell receptors that humans have (300 million to 6 million), are able to sniff out COVID-19 positive patients, especially those that are asymptomatic.
“Scent detection dogs can accurately detect low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, associated with various diseases such as ovarian cancer, bacterial infections, and nasal tumors. These VOCs are present in human blood, saliva, urine or breath,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Cynthia Otto, in a statement. “The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial. This study will harness the dog’s extraordinary ability to support the nation’s COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread.”
The researchers noted that preliminary screening by trained dogs could begin as soon as July, an important time frame as states around the country begin to reopen.
In the initial program, eight dogs will be trained for three weeks to recognize the smell of COVID-19 from saliva and urine samples. After the dogs learn the odor in the lab, the researchers will continue to see if the dogs are able to sniff COVID-19 in humans.
“Dogs and humans, perfect together as man’s best friend, through Penn Vet in partnership with the Perelman School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, provide a new solution to COVID-19,” one of the researchers, Vernon Hill, added. “Shirley and I, and Sir Duffield our beloved Yorkshire Terrier, are again proud to support Penn Vet.”
“This pilot study could not be more emblematic of Penn Vet’s unparalleled contributions to public health,” said Andrew M. Hoffman, DVM, DVSc, Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “What we do, and how we do it is relevant now more than ever before. The collaboration between Penn Vet, the School of Medicine, the School of Arts and Sciences, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, are critical to success. I’m grateful for Vernon and Shirley Hill’s longstanding generosity that will allow us to swiftly accelerate our diagnostic, detection and surveillance capabilities to fight COVID-19.”
In March, British charity Medical Detection Dogs partnered with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on a medical trial to see if the crafty canines are able to sniff out people who have COVID-19.
In April, the CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, Dr. Claire Guest, CEO, said there is no reason to believe the dogs can't detect COVID-19, given their ability to detect other diseases.
Dr. Guest also estimated dogs could sniff out as many as 750 people per hour, significantly aiding in the testing capabilities throughout the world.
Currently, there is no known cure for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
As of Monday morning, more than 3.52 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 1.1 million of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.