The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has started to deploy specially trained police dogs that can sniff out COVID-19 in a matter of seconds and large-scale trials are already being carried out at Dubai International Airport (DXB). Back in April, some countries touted medical detection dogs as the answer to rapid mass-COVID-19 testing and the initial results were promising – but until now the theory hasn’t been put into practice in a real-world environment.
Unlike the human nose which has just 5 million scent receptors, a dog’s contains over 300 million. That means sniffer dogs can to be trained to detect the tiny changes in someone’s body odour that occurs when they are infected with the novel Coronavirus. The principle is the same as sniffer dogs you already see at airports around the world, like bomb detection dogs or drug-sniffing dogs.
“We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it,” explained Professor James Logan, Head of Department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
“This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful,” Professor Logan continued.
Medical detection dogs are already used for a number of other diseases including cancer, malaria and even Parkinsons.
In studies conducted by the UAE’s Ministry of the Interior, COVID-19 sniffer dogs had an accuracy rate of 92 per cent in detecting the novel Coronavirus. In comparison, a study by John Hopkins University concluded that traditional PCR throat and nasal swab tests returned false negatives in 20 per cent of cases during the point of infection where the test should work the best.
The Dubai Police Force has developed a completely contact-free method of using its sniffer dogs to hunt out COVID-19 and it’s already being actively used at DXB. On arrival, passengers are taken to one side and a sample of their scent is collected. That sample is then taken to another room and the dog sniffs it through a funnel.
If the dog detects COVID-19, it sits down by the funnel. The passenger is then isolated and tested again with a traditional PCR test. The whole process takes only a matter of minutes and is a lot less invasive than throat and nose swab tests.
British researchers claim a single sniffer dog could screen as many as 250 people per hour but the process could be scaled up to make quick, accurate, and non-invasive COVID-19 testing for all departing and arriving passengers a real possibility.
For the time being, however, K9 dogs will just be an extra layer of protection at Dubai International. Since August 1, the UAE authorities have required passengers to present a negative PCR test certificate before even being allowed to board a flight to the country.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.