Dogs to sniff out coronavirus in humans?
Under new study by British researchers, labradors and cocker spaniels will undergo intensive training to spot COVID-19 before symptoms appear in humans.
In a bid to develop a fast and non-invasive means of detecting the novel coronavirus, dogs are to be trained in the UK to try to sniff out the deadly disease before symptoms appear in humans, under trials launched with 500,000 pounds ($606,000) of government funding.
If successful, an individual dog could check up to 250 people an hour and be used in public spaces and at airports. It will ramp up testing and will “revolutionise” virus detection procedures.
Britain's government said on Saturday that the research will be conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Durham University and a British charity, Medical Detection Dogs (MDD).
Labradors and cocker spaniels have already been successfully trained to detect the odour of certain cancers, malaria and Parkinson’s disease. Now under new study, they will undergo intensive training to spot COVID-19 before symptoms appear.
Six dogs will be given samples of the odour of COVID-19 patients from London hospitals, and taught to distinguish their smell from that of people who are not infected.
"Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy," Innovation Minister James Bethell said.
Researchers in the United States and France are attempting to train dogs to detect the disease too.
A small number of dogs are also known to have contracted COVID-19, most likely from their owners, according to vets in the United States, the Netherlands and Hong Kong.
Professor James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the LSHTM, said he was “hopeful” of success.
“Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour, and with Medical Detection Dogs, we successfully trained dogs to accurately detect malaria.
“This, combined with the knowledge that respiratory disease can change body odour, makes us hopeful that the dogs can also detect COVID-19,” the professor said.
“If successful, this approach could revolutionise how we detect the virus, with the potential to screen high numbers of people,” he added.
Dr Claire Guest, co-founder and chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “We are delighted that the Government has given us the opportunity to demonstrate that dogs can play a role in the fight against COVID-19.
“They have the potential to help by quickly screening people, which could be vital in the future.
“We are sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of COVID-19 and we will then move into a second phase to test them in live situations, following which we hope to work with other agencies to train more dogs for deployment,” said Guest.
“We are incredibly proud that a dog's nose could once again save many lives,” Guest added.