Detection Dogs Sniff Out Long COVID, Leading to Hopes for Better Therapy

COVID-19 detection dogs can also detect long COVID-19 in people, according to new research by veterinarians in Germany.

Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover found that canines specialized in sniffing out the SARS-CoV-2 virus were also able to determine samples of patients suffering from long COVID effects.

These symptoms can include headaches, breathlessness and a variety of cognitive dysfunction.

The experts said they were optimistic their study's result could help improve post-COVID therapies.

Dogs detect long COVID
A recent study by a research team from the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in Germany shows that dogs previously trained with samples from COVID-19-infected individuals can recognize samples from post-COVID-19 patients. Sebastian Meller/Zenger

Previous scientific examination revealed that specialized dogs could identify samples of people suffering from acute COVID-19. Their abilities regarding long COVID had not been determined prior to the Hannover veterinarians' pilot study.

The dogs do not detect the virus itself but volatile organic compounds that are created in metabolic procedures during an infection, according to the researchers.

The scientists said their result supports the hypothesis that these volatile organic compounds are long-term present in long COVID patients after the initial infection.

The experts carried out two different long COVID detection scenarios with the dogs.

The specialized canines showed an exceptionally high success rate of 85 percent or higher in both procedures.

"We think that further long COVID research involving medical detection dogs should be carried out based on our results," said Professor Holger Volk, head of the university's Clinic for Small Animals.

"Certain organic compounds are created during respiratory diseases. Our investigation proves that specialized detection dogs can recognize these substances not just during acute COVID infections but also with post-COVID patients."

Friederike Twele is a veterinarian and neurologist at Hannover's Veterinary Medicine University. She underlined the "great potential of medical detection dogs in regard to long COVID."

Sniffer dogs detect COVID-19 in passengers
People hold their masks for One Betta, a Dutch Shepard, to sniff for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on September 8, 2021, in Miami. Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover recently found that canines specialized in sniffing out the SARS-CoV-2 virus were also able to determine samples of patients suffering from long COVID effects. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trained detection dogs are increasingly deployed in medical research. They are capable of detecting various infectious but also non-infectious illnesses, according to the experts at the Hannover Veterinarian University.

Veterinarian and virologist Claudia Schulz added: "The diagnostic skills of detection dogs are truly impressive.

"They are able to detect not just acute COVID-19 infections but also post-COVID diseases long after common methods such as PCR and antibody tests can provide any significant information.

"This study result could lead to optimized therapies. It might also lead to a better understanding of complex infectious diseases."

The veterinarians cooperated with scientists at the city's Medical University and the service dog department of the German Bundeswehr on the COVID detection dog study.

Between 10 and 20 percent of individuals infected with COVID-19 experience a variety of mid-term and long-term effects after they recover from the initial illness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

These symptoms are commonly known as long COVID or post-COVID. They include fatigue, headache and shortness of breath but also cognitive dysfunction such as a lack of mental focus.

The National Health Service (NHS) underlines on its website: "How long it takes to recover from COVID-19 is different for everybody.

"Many people feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. But for some people, symptoms can last longer."

It points out that "people who had mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems."

The study was published June 16 in Frontiers in Medicine.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.