Sniffing Dogs and Covid

Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot

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Sniffing Dogs and Covid
I love dogs, so, it is a great pleasure to bring this information to you, dear readers. Roger Caras, American wildlife photographer, wildlife preservationist, writer and television personality, once wrote, “Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.”  They have helped us in war and peace, and, wouldn’t you know, they are right there on the front lines of the Covid19 Pandemic wars. Yes, dogs! In the high-tech, data-driven Covid-testing medical world, it turns out that dogs seem to be able to sniff out-patients who test positive for the virus. A LITTLE HISTORY According to, your “dog actually has two air passages, one for breathing and one for smelling. As your dog inhales, the air coming in is separated by a flap and 12 percent of it is directed into a special smelling chamber. This area is filled with hundreds of tiny compartments that sift through the odor molecules, breaking down the air itself to detect even the slightest traces of odor.” Humans have taken advantage of dogs’ sense of smell since their relationship began. Penn State anthropologist Professor Pat Shipman talks about humans’ early connections with dogs “tracking game, destroying rodents, protecting kin and goods, providing wool for warmth, moving humans and goods over long distances, and (even) providing milk to human infants.” Best of all, they love us. According to Time Magazine, it turns out that Canis Lupus Familiaris, the domestic dog, carries, “on Chromosome Six in particular, three genes that code for hyper-sociability—and they are in the same spot as similar genes linked to sweetness in humans.” Humans have had a parallel evolution with dogs, Megan Garbar, writing for The Atlantic, wrote, “dogs were an evolutionary technology, they may have been a technology that changed us for the better. The old truism, “We shape our tools, and afterward our tools shape us,” dogs have made us better. ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE COVID FIGHT So, here we are, in the middle of the worst pandemic since 1918, and who is fighting it with us? Dogs! At the University of Hannover Medical School in Germany, dogs were able to discriminate among saliva samples infected with Sars and non-infected samples. Why not try it with Covid-19? CNBC reports, “To conduct the study, researchers trained eight dogs from Germany’s Armed Forces for one week. The trained dogs sniffed the saliva of more than 1,000 people that were either healthy or infected with the virus. Samples infected with Covid-19 were distributed at random and neither the dog handlers nor the researchers on site knew which ones were positive.” The dogs were able to identify the Covid-19 saliva samples 94 percent of the time. Try and write an algorithm for that. FURTHER STUDIES Further studies on canine identification of Covid 19 from saliva samples have been done in England and in the United States. Dr. Claire Guest of the British Medical Detection Dog Charity, has a Cocker Spaniel named Asher who, along with five other “Super Six Covid Dogs, ” has been stationed at airports and is able to detect the odor of Covid 19 before people even show symptoms. Professor Dr. Maren Von Köckritz-Blickwede of the University Veterinary Medicine Hannover says, “We think this works because metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed, and we think that the dogs are able to detect a specific smell of the metabolic changes that occur in those patients.” Similar programs are popping up around the world. The University of Pennsylvania has an eight-dog team ready and Covid-19 sniffer dogs are already at work in airports in the United Arab Emirates. At the University of Helsinki, researchers are using urine samples to detect Covid-19 and, again, the dogs can pick up a positive result days before symptoms show up. DOG VERSUS MACHINE The current testing for Covid 19 takes several days right now, even up to a week or ten days to get results because of overloaded labs. Dogs take 30 seconds. Most dogs who will work for treats can be trained as a sniffer dog. That nose! “The sense of smell that dogs have is millions or even billions of times better than the machines that are used to look for molecules. The dogs can find molecules in extremely small concentration,” says Professor Anna Hielm Bjorkman of The University of Helsinki (Finland). “For example, if you had a glass of water containing between one and 100 molecules of whatever you’re looking for, a dog could find it, whereas the best types of machine detection systems would need 18 million molecules.” Think of how much faster and so much cheaper it is to be tested by a sniffer dog than in a laboratory! THE NOSE KNOWS From sniffing out Covid-19 to cancer, Parkinsons, malaria, bombs, drugs, currency, contraband electronics, firearms, fugitives, etc., right down to little lost children, dogs continue to be humans’ best friend. One of the Helsinki sniffer dogs, Kossi, was found on the side of a road stuffed in a box in Spain. He was brought home with his researcher and became a brilliant dog serving humanity. You can’t cuddle an algorithm or a mechanical sensor or a test kit. You get it all with a dog. Be kind to these beautiful animals as we continue to evolve into the future together. Let us know if you have any great stories of your dog to share with us. Vamos a ver! Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.
Paula Labrot

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August 7, 2020