Robert Kirby: COVID-19 testing is going to the dogs

Robert Kirby

In a discovery that could change the medical profession forever, dogs in Germany are being trained to detect COVID-19 in humans via smell alone.

It’s true. Medical squints at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover report that eight detection dogs were able to identify with 94% accuracy how many of over 1,000 human saliva samples contained the virus.

This isn’t all that surprising, given that dogs have already been trained to detect malaria, cancer, drugs, fear, explosives and squirrels on a molecular level. Your average male dog can detect a female dog in heat 500 miles away.

The sense of smell in dogs is 10,000 times that of humans. It’s a talent that comes at a price, though. I don’t care how sensitive the human sense of smell is, I wouldn’t want to change the traditional handshake greetings with a cursory sniffing of butts.

Even so, this could change how we approach COVID-19 testing. No more waiting in long lines to have someone in a hazmat suit run a cotton swab up your nose and rummage around in the back of your skull for a sample.

Instead, all that is required is some spit in a cup. Hell, we might even be able to forgo that part if we run short of disposable cups.

Just pull up to a tent where a dog smells your breath. If COVID-19, weed or gunpowder is detected, the proper people to handle the “affliction” would immediately descend on the infected.

There is, however, a problem — specifically, the possibility of cross-contamination. Suppose a previous occupant had COVID-19 or was thoroughly baked before you stopped by for the sniff test? My guess is that you would have to get out of the vehicle and submit a personal sample. But think about the money and anxiety that will be saved through this amazing scientific breakthrough.

Being tested for the virus at a medical facility can cost up to $900, not counting additional insurance annoyance fees. Some can get the testing done for free, but everyone still has to wait days for the results.

Not with a K-19 COVID dog. You would know immediately if you had the virus by the animal’s signal to the handler — something along the lines of an excited bark, a raised paw, or a vigorous leg humping.

Note: Getting savaged and thrown to the ground would only mean that you hadn’t showered since the last time you handled a squirrel.

The downside is that it’s recently been determined that dogs can contract the virus. Before that it was only known that cats — including lions and tigers — could get it. But, really, if you encounter an infected tiger, the least of your worries will be whether it coughs on you.

I have no idea how much it costs to train and maintain a virus-sniffing dog. I’m almost positive that some Big Pharma company will jack up the price of what was once freely given and even welcomed.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.