Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dogs. Show all posts

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Breathprint of COVID-19

Bad breath in those infected with COVID-19 might be the least of their problems. But studying it helps in understanding the mechanisms of this deadly respiratory disease and developing diagnostic tests. 

Dozens of confirmed cases of halitosis owing to active infection by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) have been reported in the literature (Patel & Woolley, 2020; Riad et al, 2020)

Possible explanations were decreased salivatory flow due to angiotensin‐converting enzyme 2 receptor-mediated alterations in the tongue, a greater risk of bad breath for mouth breathers who are also more prone to halitosis and increased attention to odor when wearing face masks. Another likely explanation is bacterial co‐infections arising from the novel coronavirus.

DNA analyses of microbial communities in the respiratory tract of those infected with SARS‐CoV‐2 frequently detect abnormally high bacterial reads of Prevotella, Streptococci, Treponema, Veillonella and Fusobacteria, known to emit malodorous volatile sulfur compounds and volatile fatty acids (VFAs). In addition to odor, VFAs could impair T- and B-cell proliferation responses and cytokine production.

What molecules could we expect to find in a person infected with the novel coronavirus? Lamote and colleagues review dozens of (often overlapping) molecules detected in other infections. Among those are aliphatic alcohols, branched hydrocarbons, alkane derivatives, terpenes, dimethyl sulfide and other sulfur and nitrogen-containing compounds. Three aldehydes (octanal, nonanal, and heptanal) drew special attention as candidate biomarkers in pediatric SARS-Cov-2 infection (Berna et al., 2020). These three biomarkers demonstrated 100% sensitivity and 66.6% specificity. Analysis of breath in two groups of adults with median ages 40 and 60 identified aldehydes (ethanal, octanal), ketones (acetone, butanone), and methanol that discriminated COVID-19 from other conditions. Aldehyde Heptanal had significant predictive power for severity of the disease.

It has been shown that properly trained dogs  are able to detect an olfactory signature of SARS-CoV-2 infection with a specificity greater than 90%. Several clinical trials have been initiated to study biomarkers of COVID-19 in breath by e-nose and other technologies. Two studies have been already completed and one paper reported successful detection using Aeronose (Wintjens et al, 2020) with 86% sensitivity and negative predictive value of 92%. Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility Spectrometry allowed differentiation of patients with definite diagnosis of Covid-19 from non-Covid-19 with about 80% accuracy and 82.4%/75% to 90%/80% sensitivity/specificity. 


Patel J, Woolley J. Necrotizing periodontal disease: Oral manifestation of COVID‐19. Oral diseases. 2020 Jun 7.

Riad A, Kassem I, Hockova B, Badrah M, Klugar M. Halitosis in COVID-19 patients. Special care in dentistry: official publication of the American Association of Hospital Dentists, the Academy of Dentistry for the Handicapped, and the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry. 2020 Nov.29

Lamote K, Janssens E, Schillebeeckx E, Lapperre TS, De Winter BY, Van Meerbeeck JP. The scent of COVID-19: viral (semi-) volatiles as fast diagnostic biomarkers?. Journal of breath research. 2020 Jun 29.

Berna AZ, Akaho EH, Harris RM, Congdon M, Korn E, Neher S, Farrej MM, Burns J, John AO. Breath biomarkers of pediatric SARS-CoV-2 infection: a pilot study. medRxiv. 2020 Dec. 7

Ruszkiewicz DM, Sanders D, O'Brien R, Hempel F, Reed MJ, Riepe AC, Bailie K, Brodrick E, Darnley K, Ellerkmann R, Mueller O. Diagnosis of COVID-19 by analysis of breath with gas chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry-a feasibility study. EClinicalMedicine. 2020 Oct 24:100609.

Wintjens AG, Hintzen KF, Engelen SM, Lubbers T, Savelkoul PH, Wesseling G, van der Palen JA, Bouvy ND. Applying the electronic nose for pre-operative SARS-CoV-2 screening. Surgical endoscopy. 2020 Dec 2:1-8.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Odors and Infections

Many illnesses are associated with distinct odors. Especially those caused by infectious or opportunistic microbes inside the body or on its surfaces.  Body odor of someone infected with C. difficile, for example, can appear "swampy", Rotavirus gives sharply sweet putrid smell that some people associate with wet dogs,  H. pylori  can create a range of foul odors, and pseudomonas infections can smell like grapes and bitter almonds

Infections like C. difficile are usually linked to a general imbalance of the intestinal microbiota, often referred to as dysbiosis. This means that the odors could be coming from several microbial species, hence could be different for different individuals. Does it mean odor-based diagnostics will never be enough specific?

Not according to a 2-year-old beagle from Netherland, named Cliff. After just a little over two months of training, the beagle learned to identify the C. diff toxin by sniffing people or their samples. During one test, he was able to identify 25 out of 30 infected patients and 265 of 270 non-infected individuals. He also correctly identified 50 of 50 C. diff positive stool samples and 47 of 50 samples from people that did not have this infection. That's sensitivity of 100% for samples and 83-93% for sniffing the air around the patients, and a specificity of 94-100%! And it took him less than 10 minutes to accurately perform 300 diagnostic tests.  

Dogs already do the dirty work with detecting molds. They can examine an office building with 200 rooms in just 8 hours, a task that would take us several days of measuring  moisture, probably without any result. Electronic noses would be of great help and many years of research are finally being translated into useful technologies - to be integrated with refrigerators and mobile phones. But until we are able to build smart devices to detect odors without labor-intensive dog training, perhaps we could train our own nozzles. Studies have shown we do get better with practice. 


Bomers MK, van Agtmael MA, Luik H, van Veen MC, Vandenbroucke-Grauls CM, & Smulders YM (2012). Using a dog's superior olfactory sensitivity to identify Clostridium difficile in stools and patients: proof of principle study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 345 PMID: 23241268

Poulton J, Tarlow MJ. (1987) Diagnosis of rotavirus gastroenteritis by smell. Arch Dis Child. 1987 Aug;62(8):851-2. PMID: 3662595