Stranger than fiction

Dogs can sniff out Covid a week before swabs, trial reveals

Coronavirus-detecting canines could pave the way to easing restrictions on large gatherings

Covid-sniffing dogs could become a fixture at mass events after a trial by a Belgian football club found they were highly adept at identifying infected people.

KV Oostende, who play in Belgium’s top division, partnered with a company called K9 Detection Belgium on the study. It found that specially trained dogs could detect coronavirus in a person on the first day of infection, days before conventional PCR swab tests. 

Johan Weckhuysen, head of K9, told De Standaard that “there were players who tested negative via PCR, but were found to be positive with us”, adding that the nasal swabs only tested positive “eight or nine days later”.

“If they had followed our result, the infected player would have been quarantined earlier and the virus would not have spread further in the group of players,” he added. 

The dogs were trained to detect the virus over several months by regularly sniffing swabs taken from players’ armpits. By the end of the trial, K9 said they were able to detect coronavirus with 99.5% accuracy. 

“Having a few thousand people take a PCR test before they are allowed to come to football is not financially and practically impossible,” said a spokesperson for KV Oostende. “We must take hold of every possibility to reopen our lives.”

Covid-detecting dogs have already been deployed at airports in Belgium, Finland and the United Arab Emirates, The Times reports. 

During an airport trial in Lebanon, “dogs screened 1,680 passengers and found 158 COVID-19 cases that were confirmed by PCR tests”, Nature says. “The animals correctly identified negative results with 100% accuracy, and correctly detected 92% of positive cases,” the journal adds.

The UK government is currently funding a £500,000 trial led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to train a team of “super sniffer” dogs who could screen up to 250 patients an hour, the Evening Standard says.

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