By Lana Sumner-Borema
During the pandemic, dog trainers worldwide have discovered that the Coronavirus has a distinct scent that trained dogs may be able to detect. In fact, with proper training, dogs could even prevent the spread of the virus. This new detection system is already being utilized in sporting arenas, like Miami Heat’s American Airlines Arena. Studies conducted in 2020 show that this system has an equal level of effectiveness to current COVID-19 testing methods.
According to the research journal, “Nature,” dogs have approximately 60 times more scent receptors in their noses than humans. These receptors allow them to smell “Volatile Organic Compounds,” which are small molecules that humans produce through diseases like cancer, Malaria, and other viruses, but are unable to sense.
The journal notes that the compounds detected in these diseases may be similar to the compounds present in viral infections, like COVID-19. According to “Nature,” studies show “... dogs in Finland and Lebanon have identified cases days before conventional tests picked up the virus, suggesting that they can spot infection before symptoms start.”
This early detection could prevent the spread of the virus.
The Miami Heat basketball team is taking advantage of this ability, which can be especially helpful in sports arenas. The team is currently using this canine detection model at their stadium. Asymptomatic game attendees could be weeded out of crowds with this method.
According to CNN, the dogs sniff fans while waiting in line. If the dog keeps walking, the person does not have COVID-19. If the dog sits beside the fan, they may have detected a COVID-19 case.
The Miami Heat decided to use this method to encourage fans to attend games again. This is another layer of protection fans have from the spread of COVID-19 in large arenas. The dog detection method also prevents fans from having to get tested before visiting the American Airlines Arena, which could encourage more fans to visit the arena again.
Soleil Lobato, a Miami resident, attended a Miami Heat game in January. With the new protocols in place, Lobato explained that the arena was “definitely gloomy.” According to Lobato, there were “no crowds, the lights were off, and no concessions were available.”
Although the ambiance was different from a normal game, Lobato felt safe because of the arena’s COVID-19 regulations. She notes that no one could take their masks off, and workers did well to implement this policy.
Lobato added that the dogs were a “great method of detection.”
Despite the Miami Heat’s current implementation of this system, there is only one published study about dog detection methods. The study, titled “Scent dog identification of samples from COVID-19 patients—a pilot study,” was conducted in 2020 by Paula Jendrny et al. and studied eight dogs over one week. The dogs were trained to use saliva from COVID-19 patients to detect the virus, using three experimental groups: a control group, a group who tested positive for COVID-19 and a group who tested negative.
The dogs were able to detect 82.63 percent of negative cases and 96.35 percent of positive cases. According to this data, dogs can detect the virus or lack thereof just as well as the current antigen or antibody testing can.
While research continues to explore the effectiveness of this new detection system, there is hope that man’s best friend may be able to help bring back sports by identifying and preventing the spread of the Coronavirus.