Wam file photo
Wam file photo

Sniffer dogs better than PCR test in detecting Covid cases: UAE study

Abu Dhabi - It was found that when it comes to Covid detection, the sensitivity of K9 dogs was 89 per cent, higher than RT-PCR at 73 per cent.

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Ashwani Kumar

Published: Sat 12 Jun 2021, 4:10 PM

Last updated: Sat 12 Jun 2021, 4:49 PM

Sniffer dogs can detect Covid-19 cases with a higher degree of success and with better sensitivity than an RT-PCR nasal swab test, according to a new study conducted in Abu Dhabi.

The Federal Customs Authority’s explosive detection dogs trained in sniffing Covid-19 odour from a person’s sweat were able to screen out 3,249 individuals who tested negative for the SARS-CoV-2 out of 3,290. Additionally, using Bayesian analysis — a method of statistical inference — the sensitivity of the detection dog test was found to be superior to the RT-PCR nasal test done on 3,134 persons.

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These are findings from a study conducted by professors and experts from the Federal Customs Authority, the Higher Colleges of Technology and Four Winds K9 Solutions. The study was published last week in Nature, a science journal.

“Given its high sensitivity, short turn-around-time, low cost, less invasiveness, and ease of application, the dog test lends itself as a better alternative to the RT-PCR in screening for SARS-CoV-2 in asymptomatic individuals,” the study said.

The study compared the diagnostic accuracy of the K9 and the RT-PCR tests for detection of Covid-19 virus using the Bayesian latent class analysis (LCA) — estimating sensitivity and specificity of two or more tests. While the sensitivity of a test is the true positive rate, i.e., measures the proportion of samples that are positive, whereas specificity measures the proportion of negatives that are correctly identified.

Through data collected from 3,134 persons, it was found that the sensitivity of K9 dogs was 89 per cent, higher than RT-PCR at 73 per cent. However, the median estimate of specificity of both the tests was high and comparable at 99 per cent.

“K9 test has a higher sensitivity than the RT-PCR test. The high specificity of both tests indicates that they have a great potential to correctly identify truly negative Covid-19 individuals.”

The samples for the study were collected from individuals visiting the Covid-19 screening centre in Al Mafraq Workers City.

All were men aged between 19 and 67 years, with more than 90 per cent hailing from Asia, including 38 per cent from India and 28 per cent from Pakistan.

A total of 3,290 armpit sweat samples and nasal swabs were collected. The RT-PCR test was collected by a healthcare worker and people donated their armpit sweat samples.

The study was undertaken by Abdul Salam Al Shamsi, director of the K9 Unit at the Federal Customs Authority, and the Higher Colleges of Technology’s scientific team was led by professor Mohammed Hag Ali and included Abdullatif Al Shamsi, Yasser Mahmmod, Rashid Manzoor and Mohamed El Tholoth.

Sniffer dogs have been successfully deployed to detect Covid-19 cases at Abu Dhabi and Sharjah airports, border points, major events in Dubai. They also help solve murder cases and sniff out drugs and explosive materials in shipments arriving at ports.


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