Trained Sniffer Dogs: They Accurately Detect Airport Passengers Infected With SARS-CoV-2

Trained Sniffer Dogs: They Accurately Detect Airport Passengers Infected With SARS-CoV-2

One Betta, a Dutch Shepard, waits for a command to sniff masks for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on September 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)



By Simona Kitanovska

Trained sniffer dogs can accurately detect airport passengers infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 according to new research.


This method of detection is likely to be especially valuable, not only in the early stages of a pandemic when other resources might not yet be available, but also to help contain an ongoing pandemic, suggest the researchers.

One Betta, a Dutch Shepard, sniffs a mask for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on September 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The research, published in the open-access journal BMJ Global Health, reveals dogs have a very keen sense of smell and can pick up a scent at levels as low as one part per trillion, far exceeding any available mechanical techniques.

It is thought that they are able to detect distinct volatile organic compounds released during various metabolic processes in the body, including those generated by bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections.

Preliminary data suggest that dogs can be trained within weeks to detect samples from patients with COVID-19 infection, with a degree of accuracy comparable to that of a standard PCR nose and throat swab test.

While promising, these lab data results needed to be replicated in real-life conditions. The researchers, therefore, trained 4 dogs to sniff out SARS-CoV-2 in Spring 2020. Each of the dogs had previously been trained to sniff out illicit drugs or dangerous goods or cancer.

To test the dogs’ detection skills, 420 volunteers provided four skin swab samples each. The 4 dogs each sniffed the skin samples from 114 of the volunteers who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on a PCR swab test and from 306 who had tested negative. The samples were randomly presented to each dog over 7 trial sessions.

Overall, the diagnostic accuracy of all samples sniffed was 92%: combined sensitivity— accuracy of detecting those with the infection—was 92% and combined specificity—accuracy of detecting those without the infection—was 91%.

Only minor variation was seen among the dogs: the best performance reached 93% for sensitivity and 95% for specificity; the worst reached 88% for sensitivity and 90% for specificity.

People hold their masks for One Betta, a Dutch Shepard, to sniff for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on September 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Some 28 of the positive samples came from people who had had no symptoms. Only one was incorrectly identified as negative and two weren’t sniffed, meaning that 25 of the 28 (just over 89%) were correctly identified as positive: the lack of symptoms didn’t seem to affect the dogs’ performance.

The 4 dogs were then put to work sniffing out 303 incoming passengers at Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport, Finland, between September 2020 and April 2021. Each passenger also took a PCR swab test.

The PCR and sniffer results matched in 296 out of 303 (98%) of the real-life samples. The dogs correctly identified the samples as negative in 296 out of 300 (99%) PCR negative swab tests and identified three PCR positive cases as negative.

After re-evaluation with clinical and serological data, one was judged to be SARS-CoV-2 negative, one SARS-CoV-2 positive, and one a likely post-infectious positive PCR test result.

Similarly, the dogs indicated 4 PCR negative cases as positive. These were all judged to be SARS-CoV-2 negative.

Because the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 among the airport passengers was relatively low (less than 0.5%), 155 samples from people who had tested positive on a PCR swab test were also presented to the dogs.

The dogs correctly identified just under 99% of them as positive. Had these ‘spike’ samples been included in the real-life study, the dogs’ performance would have reached a sensitivity of 97% and a specificity of 99%.

Based on these results, the researchers then calculated the proportion of true positive results (PPV) and the proportion of true negative results (NPV) in two hypothetical scenarios reflecting a population prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 of 40% and 1%.

For the prevalence of 40%, they estimated a PPV of 88% and an NPV of 94.5%. This means that the information provided by the dog increases the chances of detection to around 90%.

Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, wears her vest as she waits for a command before sniffing masks for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on September 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

For a population prevalence of 1%, on the other hand, they estimated a PPV of just under 10% and an NPV of just under 100%.

In both scenarios, the high NPV backs the use of sniffer dogs for screening, with the aim of excluding people who don’t need a PCR swab test, say the researchers.

And they suggest that: “dogs could be used both in sites of high SARS-CoV-2 prevalence, such as hospitals (to prescreen patients and personnel), as well as in low prevalence sites, such as airports or ports (to prescreen passengers).” This could save both considerable time and resource, they say.

The researchers acknowledge that dogs trained to sniff out other substances may mistakenly identify these substances as SARS-CoV-2 positive. The required storage period of the training and spiked samples may also have affected the viability of the volatile organic compounds, they say.

Shevetta Williams, from the Miami Dade Aviation Department, holds her mask down as Denise Webb directs Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, to sniff her mask for the scent of COVID-19 at Miami International Airport on September 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A key finding was that the dogs were less successful at correctly identifying the alpha variant as they had been trained to detect the wild type. But this just goes to show how good dogs are at distinguishing between different scents, say the researchers.

“This observation is remarkable as it proves the scent dogs’ robust discriminatory power. The obvious implication is that training samples should cover all epidemiologically relevant variants. Our preliminary observations suggest that dogs primed with one virus type can in a few hours be retrained to detect its variants.”

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Beating The Hidden Dangers Of Heat Waves

Beating The Hidden Dangers Of Heat Waves

Outdoor fountains, such as this one in Philadelphia, are a popular way to cool down. (Joscelyn Paine/Flickr)



By Mark Puleo

Heat waves are dangerous. They can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which could prove fatal. But in the rush to avoid those dangers, hidden perils remain.


A stretch of warm weather officially becomes a heat wave when a location faces two or more days of temperatures higher than the historical averages for that area. Those standards can change, depending on the region. A stretch of triple-digit temperature days in June may be average for Death Valley, but the same temperatures farther north might shatter all-time records.

The numbers on the thermometers may not matter as much as the acclimatization of local residents. Southern California residents may be accustomed to the heat and have the air conditioners ready to go, but a Seattle native who has never experienced similar temperatures could be in a world of trouble.

Heat is the most deadly weather-related killer in the United States, and hyperthermia and dehydration aren’t always the main culprits.

On average, extreme heat events have killed more people in the United States on average, from 1991 to 2020, than any other weather event. (Data via National Weather Service)

Here are a few of the hidden dangers you may not expect from a heat wave:

You’ve been stuck outside in the sweltering heat and dream of taking a freezing cold shower or taking a dip in a frigid stream. Don’t. The cold shock can kill.

“Fifty-five-degree water may not sound very cold, but it can be deadly,” the National Weather Service warns.

While warm outside air may trick you into thinking that local bodies of water are also warm, a sudden cold plunge can shock your brain and cause dramatic changes to your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.

“Cold water drains body heat up to four times faster than cold air,” the NWS cautions. “The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone creates a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters. In rougher open water, this danger increases.”

Keith Bills, course manager at the National Ice Rescue School for the Coast Guard, told AccuWeather that cold shock can even trigger a gasp reflex that can cause you to uncontrollably inhale water when you go under.

Even after the initial shock, the second phase of cold water immersion can prove fatal.

Once water temperatures slip under 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the human body will begin to naturally preserve its vital organs by decreasing blood flow to the arms and legs, making swimming even more difficult, Bills said.

This type of short-term immersion causes “the loss of performance where you get cold muscle tissue, and you lose the ability to even swim, move your arms or even hold onto anything,” he said.

While death by drowning is a tragedy that can occur during any time of the year, hospitalizations related to non-fatal drownings have spiked during heat waves. They can be directly related to people spending more time than usual in the water to cool off.

Non-fatal drowning incidents can be more common during heat waves, given that rush to cool down. That leads more inexperienced swimmers and children into the water.

During Oregon’s record-breaking heat wave of June 2021, hospitalization queries for non-fatal drowning or submersion cases were abnormally high on June 27 to June 29, according to data released by the Oregon Health Authority.

During that three-day period, a stretch of record-breaking heat took hold, culminating in a high of 116 degrees, mind-boggling weather for a city that averages high temperatures in the upper 70s at that time of year and a new all-time high for Portland.

Humans aren’t alone in seeking ways to beat the heat. (Jan Maguire/Flickr)

Data from the health authority also showed a sharp spike in hospital visits during the Oregon heat wave, related to exposure to cyanobacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, which live in bodies of water and multiply quickly when in the right environment of sunlight and warmth.

“Blooms can form in warm, slow-moving waters that are rich in nutrients from sources such as fertilizer runoff or septic tank overflows,” the CDC wrote.

The cyanobacteria began blooming at the same time as Oregon residents began jumping in lakes to escape the heat wave. As a result, hospitalization rates for bacteria exposure spiked during that final week of June.

“Exposure to cyanobacteria can result in symptoms including skin rash, diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, numbness, and fainting,” the health authority said.

Dehydration is overhydration’s far more sinister sibling, but the dangers of overhydration are often unrecognized and under-addressed.

The danger from drinking too much water comes when the sodium counts in your body become diluted. This triggers hyponatremia, a condition that essentially drowns the own body internally.

“The primary issue of having too much water is you drown in your own water a bit. It dilutes the sodium in your blood and your biggest risk is that it can cause a change in the way your brain works,” Dr. Matthew McElroy, a sports medicine specialist and primary care doctor with Geisinger Health Systems, told AccuWeather.

Hyponatremia often announces its arrival with symptoms including headaches, nausea, drowsiness, muscle weakness and seizures.

Heat waves appear to increase the prevalence of hyponatremia, particularly among users of medical drugs that heighten patients water retention. When those patients consume more water during heat waves to cool themselves down, they subsequently increase their odds of diluting the sodium in their bodies, according to a publication from researchers at Linköping University in Sweden,

“Warm weather increases the risk of drug-induced hyponatremia,” the study concluded. “Increased awareness of risk drugs and adjustment of medication use by patients with a high risk of drug-induced hyponatremia could potentially prevent this condition.”

Produced in association with AccuWeather.

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Drinking Problem: Alcohol Abuse Increased During COVID Pandemic

Drinking Problem: Alcohol Abuse Increased During COVID Pandemic

A man carries empty beer bottles as he collects them from a restaurant in a hutong neighborhood on September 8, 2021 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)



By Simona Kitanovska

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in alcohol problems particularly for young adults according to a new study.


In the Cedars-Sinai study, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, investigators used predictive modeling to compare expected—also called projected—alcohol use disorder mortality rates to actual rates. They found that alcohol use disorder-related mortality rates increased among all ages and sexes during the pandemic.

Yee Hui Yeo, MD, MSc, lead author of the study, said: “During the first few months of the pandemic, my colleagues and I saw increased numbers of patients being treated for acute alcohol use-related conditions in the intensive care unit and throughout the medical center.

“We also became aware of reports from single centers of elevated alcohol use-related complications. That prompted us to think, maybe this is a significant public health crisis.”

Investigators obtained de-identified mortality data for seven years—2012-2019—from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database that registers more than 99% of all deaths in the U.S. They then used predictive modeling to determine 2020 and 2021 projected mortality rates based on previous years’ trends, and compared those with the rates that were actually observed.

Yeo said: “What we found in our analysis reflects what we had been seeing anecdotally in our patients and in academic papers tracking complications like alcohol-related liver disease.”

Bottles of vodka are seen on the shelves in an ABC store on February 28, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The shocking statistics found that in 2020, the observed alcohol use disorder-related deaths were about 25% higher than the projected rates.

A year later in 2021, the observed rates were about 22% higher than projected.

The increase in predicted versus observed mortality was similar for both sexes—approximately 25% for women and men in 2020 versus 20% for women and 22% for men in 2021.

But the older adult group had the highest mortality rate throughout the study period, it was the younger group (ages 25-44 years) who suffered the greatest surge during the pandemic, which warrants public attention.

Yeo added: “We also know that alcohol use disorder is often under-reported, so actual mortality rates related to alcohol use may be even higher than reported.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the reference that mental health professionals use to categorize mental health disorders, defines alcohol use disorder as “a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least two of the following, occurring within a 12-month period.”

The manual then lists 11 criteria, such as a craving or strong urge to use alcohol; recurring use of alcohol that results in a failure to fulfill obligations at school, work or home; and continued alcohol use despite having persistent social or interpersonal problems that are created or exacerbated by alcohol use.

Security officers wearing protective suits patrol along the Liangma River on May 14, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Yeo concluded: “In publishing this article, we want everyone, especially policymakers and physicians on the front lines, to know that during the pandemic, there is really a significant surge in alcohol use disorder-related deaths.

“We also want to recognize that patients who die from alcohol use disorder-related causes tend to have social determinants of health, like lower socioeconomic status, that can make it harder for them to access healthcare and help. Finally, we want to make sure that patients who do seek treatment for alcohol or substance use have access to follow-up care to prevent secondary complications.”

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Fertilitiy Hope: Frozen Testicular Tissue Still Viable After Two Decades

Fertilitiy Hope: Frozen Testicular Tissue Still Viable After Two Decades

Cross section of infertile mouse testis showing previously frozen transplanted rat germ cells and sperm. (Eoin Whelan, Whelan et al., 2022, PLOS Biology, CC-BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)/Zenger)



By Darko Manevski

Frozen testicular tissue can still make sperm 20 years later, according to scientists who say it can help young cancer patients to later have children.


Male testis tissue that is cryopreserved can be reimplanted after more than 20 years and will go on to make viable sperm, according to a new study in rodents in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Eoin Whelan of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

But the work together with colleagues that was published on May 10 found that the long delay comes with a cost in reduced fertility compared to tissue that is only briefly frozen.

The results may have important implications for the treatment of boys with cancer, for whom chemotherapy may be preceded by harvesting and freezing of testicular tissue for eventual reimplantation.

Sperm samples are monitored under a microscope at Birmingham Women’s Hospital fertility clinic on January 22, 2015 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The rate of survival for childhood cancers has increased dramatically in the last several decades, but a serious side effect of treatment is diminished fertility later in life. A potential treatment would be to harvest, freeze, and reimplant testicular tissue, which contains stem cells, a procedure which has recently been shown in a macaque model to restore fertility, at least after short-term freezing.

But for pre-pubertal boys with cancer, reimplantation may not be feasible for a decade or more after harvesting, raising the question of how long frozen spermatogenic stem cells (SSCs) can remain viable.

To explore this question, the authors thawed rat SSCs that had been cryopreserved in their laboratory for more than 23 years, and implanted them in so-called nude mice, which lack an immune response that would otherwise reject the foreign tissue.

They compared the ability of the long-frozen SSCs to generate viable sperm to SSCs frozen for only a few months, and to freshly harvested SSCs, all from a single rat colony maintained over several decades.

Chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer patients are mixed in the pharmacy at the Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins August 15, 2005 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The authors found that the long-frozen SSCs were able to colonize the mouse testis and generate all of the necessary cell types for successful sperm production, but not as robustly as SSCs from either of the more recently harvested tissue samples. While the long-frozen SSCs had similar profiles of gene expression changes compared to the other samples, they made fewer elongating spermatids, which go on to form swimming sperm.

These results have several important implications.

First, they point out the importance of in situ testing of SSC viability, rather than relying on biochemical or cellular biomarkers, in determining the potential of cryopreserved cells, which may not reflect the actual loss of stem cell potential over time. Second, while there currently are no protocols that can expand human SSCs for reimplantation—a requirement for clinical development of this treatment—such protocols may need to consider time-dependent degradation of viability, assuming human SSCs mimic those of rats. Finally, and this is the good news, viability is by no means lost during long-term cryopreservation, suggesting that it may be possible to identify and mitigate the key drivers of loss of viability, in order to improve the reproductive options of boys whose childhood cancers are successfully treated.

Kyle Denhoff and members of the Boston Cannons visit cancer patients at Boston Children’s Hospital August 8, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images for Boston Children’s Hospital)

Whelan adds, “Our study showed that rat spermatogonial stem cells can be successfully frozen for over 20 years, transplanted into an infertile recipient animal and regenerate the ability to produce sperm, albeit at a reduced rate. This could provide a method to recover the loss of fertility in prepubertal boys treated for cancer.”

The freely available paper in PLOS Biology: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.300…

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Healthy Living: Changing Lifestyle Behaviours Can Increase Lifespan

Healthy Living: Changing Lifestyle Behaviours Can Increase Lifespan

Joggers run along the Tidal Basin in the early morning past the cherry blossoms on March 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)



By Darko Manevski

Idioms and proverbs about the importance of maintaining good health span the ages. Many emphasize how closely health is tied to happiness and the opportunity to live a fulfilling and enjoyable life.


A study published this month in Age and Ageing by The Japan Collaborate Cohort (JACC) Study group at Osaka University assessed the impact of modifying lifestyle behaviors on life expectancy from middle age onwards.

The researchers found that adopting five or more healthy lifestyle behaviors increased life expectancy even for individuals >80 years of age and, importantly, including those with chronic conditions.

Lifespan is dependent on social factors such as socioeconomic status, policy factors such as assisted access to healthcare, and lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. The current study used a baseline survey from the JACC study, a large research project of 49,021 individuals conducted from 1988 to1990 in 45 areas of Japan.

The aim was to increase knowledge about what factors contribute to death from cancer and cardiovascular disease; thus, the questionnaire included components such as diet, exercise, alcohol intake, smoking status, sleep duration, and body mass index. Points were given for each healthy behavior and the impact of modifying these lifestyle behaviors on projected lifespan was assessed.

The study continued until December 2009, by which time 8,966 individuals had died. The study’s primary author, Dr. Ryoto Sakaniwa said. “The results were very clear. A higher number of modified healthy behaviors was directly associated with great longevity for both men and women.” The lifetime gains were highest for reducing alcohol intake, not smoking, losing weight, and increasing sleep, adding up to 6 years of life for healthy 40-year-olds.

In this photo illustration, menthol cigarettes sit on a table on April 28, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

This benefit was prominent even among older individuals (80 years or more) and those with one or more major comorbidities including cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and kidney disease, and in each life stage from middle age onwards. “This is a particularly important finding given that the prevalence of chronic disease has increased globally and is a major cause of death in older populations,” says Senior author, Prof. Hiroyasu Iso. This is one of the first studies to measure the impact of improvements to health behavior among older individuals in a country with a national life expectancy achieving almost 85 years.

Attendees of Unum Festival take part in a yoga session at the Pine Stage in Rana e Hedhur beach on June 4, 2021 in Shengjin, Albania. (Photo by Ferdi Limani/Getty Images)

The finding that lifestyle improvements has a positive impact on health despite chronic health conditions and older age is an empowering one, especially given the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and longer life. The findings of this study will contribute to the design of future healthcare settings, public health approaches, and policies that work in partnership with patients to promote healthy lifestyle choices.

The article, “Impact of modifiable healthy lifestyle adoption on lifetime gain from middle to older age” was published in Age and Ageing at DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afac080

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Easy Viewing: Over Half Of Americans Love Comfort TV

Easy Viewing: Over Half Of Americans Love Comfort TV

More Americans use TV to destress than any other relaxation method, new research suggests. (Josh Castronuovo/Zenger).



By Simona Kitanovska

More Americans use TV to destress than any other relaxation method, new research suggests.


Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the streaming service Philo, a recent poll of 2,000 adults revealed that 55% watch TV as a self-soothing technique for relieving anxiety or stress.

That’s more than the number of respondents who relax by taking a bath (42%) or by doing yoga (33%).

Over half (56%) of participants seek out “comfort” TV shows or movies that they watch regularly, including twice as many people from the Northeast as the West (68% vs 36%, compared to 59% in the Southeast and 55% in the Midwest).

More Americans use TV to destress than any other relaxation method, new research suggests. (Josh Castronuovo/Zenger).

Respondents turn to those comfort shows most when feeling stressed (22%), bored (22%) or anxious (20%) — and on average, they’ve watched their comfort shows or movies about 18 different times.

“It may have something to do with the reward centers in your brain,” said Dr. Natalie King, PhD, a brain health expert and neuroscientist. “Watching your favorite TV series can encourage the release of dopamine, which creates a sense of euphoria. Dopamine essentially says to the brain: “You are enjoying this… Keep it up!’”

One in five respondents (22%) seek out dramas, such as historical movies or shows, crime procedurals and doctor shows making it the most popular genre to watch when stressed.

Televisions are offered for sale at an electronics store on February 08, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Baby boomers, however, were the most likely to opt for comedy, movies and sitcoms at 25%. Similarly, millennials (ages 26-41) chose dramas 25% of the time.

Thrillers, including horror, mystery and disaster movies, placed second in overall popularity (16%), but stood out as the most popular genre (19%) amongst Gen-Xers (ages 42-57).

Northeasterners opted for action (21%) and thrillers (22%), more than any other regional group — and twice as much as the West in particular (10% for action, 9% thrillers).

More than half of all people who opted for television to relax (54%) also find themselves snacking in front of the TV, with action fans most partial to salty carbohydrate-fueled snacks like popcorn, chips, or pretzels (42%).

A view of assorted popcorn at EAT (RED) Food & Film Fest! (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for (RED))

Meanwhile, those who watched one hour dramas were more likely to opt for sweet (35%) and savory foods (34%).

“Eating sweet and savory food also releases dopamine, making it even more addictive over time,” Dr. King added. “When the mesolimbic dopamine system fires to signal that an event was positive, it reinforces behaviors and makes it more likely for us to carry out those actions again.”

Food aside, respondents said they maximize comfort in front of the TV by messaging their friends and family on another screen (43%), wearing comfy clothing (40%) and watching from their favorite spot (40%).

In fact, those who watch from their favorite spot are most likely to consider themselves “relaxed” (34%) after watching their comfort show.

To that same tune, those who are watching from a TV or home theater room are most likely watching dramas (34%) and those who are watching from their living room are likely turning on an action flick (28%).

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