Anyone who has had an unfamiliar dog nose them in the private area may shudder at the prospect – but trained canines may be the next big thing in COVID testing. It is by now well known how ineffective PCR tests were during the height of the pandemic. No less than 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.
Take dogs, for example. We have roughly five million scent receptors, while dogs have approximately 300 million of them, giving them a distinct advantage in the smelling and sniffing department. Drug sniffing dogs are used to collar the lawless. Cadaver sniffing dogs can be trained to detect the deceased. Using a piece of clothing worn by a missing person can help a dog locate people gone missing or abducted. Dogs have also been taught to detect maladies, including cancer, diabetes, and malaria. And now – for the first time – dogs are being trained to detect a viral disease in human beings.
Pooches Over PCR
The World Health Organization has been less than forthcoming about the efficacy of PCR tests. It knew the cycle thresholds were too high early in 2020, causing millions of false positives – but curiously waited until Inauguration Day 2021 to widely publicize its new guidelines for PCR testing. This has resulted in a steep worldwide decline in recorded infection rates. Be that as it may, 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. And if COVID sniffing dogs are possible – why not dogs that can detect the presence of lies and deceit? There would undoubtedly be no want of work for them in our nation’s capital.
Read more from author Pennel Bird
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