Anyone who has had an unfamiliar dog nose at them may shudder at the prospect – but trained canines may be the next big thing in COVID testing. PCR tests, which is short for “polymerase chain reaction” tests, were used to detect COVID-19, but they were known to be ineffective. The New York Times reported they could show as little as 10% efficacy, yielding millions and millions of false positives worldwide. Well-trained dogs have a much better track record.
The Greek myth of Prometheus follows a proto-god’s efforts to advocate on behalf of humanity. His challenge? When creatures were molded and created – the animals got all the gifts. They have fur for warmth, four legs for speed, wings for flight, and super senses, including sight, hearing, and smell, leaving puny, naked humans with none of these advantages. But Prometheus’ plan to steal fire from the Gods on behalf of humans didn’t exactly pan out for him. He was chained to a rock for all of eternity so a vulture could rip his liver out daily for a protein-rich midday snack. But the myth still resonates. Although blessed with out-sized brains, humans don’t have many of the other natural gifts that animals do.
Pooches Over PCR
The World Health Organization announced in January 2021 that the false-positives from PCR tests were too high during 2020. Now that this has been adjusted for, there has been a worldwide decline in recorded infection rates. The WHO is now pivoting to COVID-sniffing dogs and has coordinated an international task force to investigate their viability for widespread use.
Dogs can be trained to detect COVID for a fraction of the cost of PCR tests and can be ready to report for duty in just a few short weeks – and even faster if the dogs are already trained to detect bombs or explosives. The dogs can learn to detect COVID with somewhere between 82% to 99% sensitivity and between 84% to 99% specificity. This is a considerable improvement over the PCR tests, which could be as high as 90% inefficacious.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) demonstrated an average detection rate of 94% – which is impressive by any standard. Already, professional entities as diverse as the NBA, the Beirut airport, and construction firms in London are using the clever canines to lower the costs, streamline the implementation, and improve the efficacy of COVID testing.
Thanks to man’s best friend, we may now have a far more reliable way to test for the SARS CoV2 virus that paralyzed planet Earth for over a year.