COVID testing with dogs delivers surprise results
Dogs are more accurate at detecting COVID in humans than lateral flow tests
The study, conducted by the l'Ecole nationale vétérinaire d'Alfort in partnership with the French Ministry of Agriculture, compared canine olfactory testing with gold-standard PCR testing.
Dog testing in Paris
The dogs were deployed to a COVID testing site in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris for three weeks, where symptomatic and asymptomatic people arrived for unscheduled testing.
Even though the cohort was limited, with 335 participants, the results showed incredible promise that dogs may well be an extremely useful addition in the testing toolkit. Many of the trials conducted to assess lateral flow test accuracy to date had smaller numbers of participants.
The results of the trial
Amongst the 335 participants 109 tested positive for COVID-19 with a PCR Test and 97% were identified correctly by the dogs, with a 91% specificity (true positive rate).
Participants were aged between 6 and 76 years old. They were 51% female and 88% were adults. The average age was 35 years old. That gives a very good reference range.
Nine dogs were used to screen the participants. They had not had any prior contact with any of the study participants. The results were compared with PCR tests results taken immediately after the canine smell-test.
Compared to lateral flow tests
Although the number of participants was limited, it is larger than many trials that have been published showing the efficacy of lateral flow tests. The "Liverpool" study widely referenced in the media was based upon 70 cases.
In the largest independent review of the evidence surrounding lateral flow tests, they achieved an average of 58% accuracy in people who did not have any symptoms. Canine testing delivered better results in this study.
Mass testing with dogs
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Durham are also working on a trial to study whether dogs can identify unique aromas associated with coronavirus.
The hypothesis is that dogs may be able to help screen for COVID at airports, train stations or sports events. Larger trials will be needed to prove whether that is feasible and practical, although it's an incredibly interesting idea.
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