In between belly rubs, dogs are on the front lines in hunting down COVID

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A dog receives training to identify COVID-19 by smell. Credit: Aviation Pros
A dog receives training to identify COVID-19 by smell. Credit: Aviation Pros

[T]hree Labradors, operating out of a university clinic in Bangkok, are part of a global corps of dogs being trained to sniff out Covid-19 in people. Preliminary studies, conducted in multiple countries, suggest that their detection rate may surpass that of the rapid antigen testing often used in airports and other public places.

“For dogs, the smell is obvious, just like grilled meat for us,” said Dr. Kaywalee Chatdarong, deputy dean of research and innovation for the faculty of veterinary science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

The hope is that dogs can be deployed in crowded public spaces, like stadiums or transportation hubs, to identify people carrying the virus. 

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“P.C.R. tests are not immediate, and there are false negative results, while we know that dogs can detect Covid in its incubation phase,” said Dr. Anne-Lise Chaber.

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Some methods of detection, like temperature screening, can’t identify infected people who have no symptoms. But dogs can, because the infected lungs and trachea produce a trademark scent. And dogs need fewer molecules to nose out Covid than are required for P.C.R. testing, Thai researchers said.

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