COVID-19 pandemic has assumed alarmingly high proportions of morbidity and mortality amongst human populace world over. Various countries like Britain, Finland, Russia, France, UAE, Germany, Lebanon have started training dogs for COVID-19 detection by screening passengers at Airports and Railway stations. Taking a leaf out of the global trends of using medical detection dogs for various diseases like cancer, malaria, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease etc, Indian Army has undertaken trials for detection of COVID-19 using army dogs in controlled conditions. Positive and suspected samples were obtained from Military Hospital, Meerut Cantt and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Subharti Medical College, Meerut for the purpose of training.
Army dogs were successfully trained on specific biomarkers emanating from urine and sweat samples of positive patients. Scientifically, it is evident that affected body tissues release unique volatile metabolic biomarkers which are used as disease signatures for detection of disease by the medical detection dogs. A concerted effort has been made to train an Indigenous breed of dog ‘Chippiparai’ under PM’s initiative of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” and also a ‘Cocker Spaniel’ to detect the volatilome of COVID-19 disease from urine and sweat samples of positive cases by comparatory method.
The sensitivity and specificity of both the dogs obtained from screening of 279 urine and 267 sweat samples during the initial trial procedure was found to be very high. After training dogs were at first deployed at a Transit Camp in Delhi for screening of transients,a total of 806 transients were screened during their deployment. Further both dogs are deployed in Transit Camp and are presently being used for screening of transients moving to operational area through the transit camp. More than 3000 samples have been screened so far by these dogs. Till date 18 samples have been found positive by the COVID-19 detection dogs. From the trials and operational deployment, it has been inferred that COVID-19 volatile metabolic biomarkers are within the threshold limit of olfactory detection capability of trained dog and can help in quick and real time detection of disease. Keeping in mind the success of trial, more dogs have been incorporated in training for COVID-19 detection.
First time in India, the olfactory capability of canines have been exploited to detect tissues infected with pathogens releasing volatile metabolic biomarkers. The use of such canines in detection of COVID-19 can assist in quick and real time detection of the disease. The effort will turn out to be the part of detectable disease signatures, thereby paving the way forward for real time detection of various medical diseases by use of trained medical detection dog.