How effective are dogs at sniffing out COVID-19?
Bottom Line: The recent use of the COVID sniffing canines at the American Airlines Arena for Heat games ushered in a new pandemic possibility for getting back to some semblance of life as we knew it before. The pooch detector. While I’m still not sure what happens, or will happen, when someone shows up to a game with the rona’ and a dog sniffs them out – I am interested in the possibilities presented by COVID K-9's. 102 plus years ago, the H1N1 virus brought the worst pandemic the US has ever known and today it’s still the most common form of the flu. If COVID-19 and its variants turn out to be the new flu, beyond this year which has already happened, we’re going to need some new realities to get back to our preferred reality. Could the future be present in the dogs? Let’s take a look of the view of pawsible.
The current K-9 training program for COVID-19 currently ranges from 23 to 60 days. The organization running the Heat’s K-9 program is the Global K-9 Protection Group. According to the organization dogs can sniff out the vid’ in seconds and are the most effective detectors of COVID-19. The question is how accurate are the dogs? And what could potentially go wrong with the approach? Consider this regarding the accuracy of drug sniffing dogs. There have been numerous studies done on the accuracy of drug sniffing dogs, however the most recent occurred in 2017. Here were the results...
- 63% of the time drug sniffing dogs indicated someone had drugs on them, they didn’t when searched
That’s a huge miss. What this shows is the dogs can heavily error on the side of false positives. Some believe that the high false positive rate with drug sniffing dogs indicates a suspect may have recently been in contact with illegal drugs recently and carry the scent on them, which is possible but still not definitive. Drilling down further on simply identifying the scent, here’s what we know from controlled studies. When trained to detect specific scents in a controlled group K-9's proved to be accurate 91.61% of the time. For this reason, it’s likely most of the false positives for drug sniffing dogs aren’t really false positives. It’s likely the suspects were in recent contact with the illegal substances. So back to the dog sniffing and our current COVID reality.
I mentioned the near 92% success rate of K-9's to sniff out something they’ve been trained to find. In studies dogs have proven to be anywhere from 75% to 100% accurate, based on the dog. This illustrates some dogs are just better at it than others which could come down to training, aptitude or both. So here’s the question. How accurate is accurate enough to roll them out in more places? For example, imagine holding tickets to a game, or a flight, or whatever, only to be sniffed out by a dog that was wrong. No game, or no flight and instead a COVID test which reveals you’re negative. Perhaps this could be backed up with rapid tests for those which are identified by the dogs, but the inconvenience remains. History suggests the dogs will be wrong somewhere around 8% of the time but that when they error, they’re inclined to error on the side of a positive result. That means they’re probably effective at stopping someone with the vid’ from going into a venue but with a high degree of inconvenience for those which turn out to be false alarms.
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