UK researchers begin work on training dogs to detect COVID-19

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Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University have begun work on ascertaining if dogs can be used to detect COVID-19.

This follows successful research into using dogs to detect the presence of malaria, cancer and Parkinson’s disease in humans.

According to the team, the dogs will be trained intensively over the course of six weeks to assist in rapid and non-invasive diagnosis. As in the procedure for other  diseases, the dogs could be made to sniff samples in the training room, indicating which contains the disease or infection.

If the research is successful, the researchers said that the trained dogs could supplement ongoing testing by screening for the virus accurately and rapidly, potentially triaging up to 250 people per hour.

Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM and Director of ARCTEC, Prof. James Logan said, “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic.

“It’s early days for COVID-19 odour detection. We do not know if COVID-19 has a specific odour yet, but we know that other respiratory diseases change our body odour so there is a chance that it does. And if it does dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19.”

As the dogs will also be trained to detect high temperature, they could also come in handy for screening passengers with a fever at ports, preventing suspected COVID-19 cases from slipping into town.

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CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs, Dr. Claire Guest said, “In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19. We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odour of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs.

“The aim is that dogs will be able to screen anyone, including those who are asymptomatic and tell us whether they need to be tested. This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”

Durham University’s Professor Steve Lindsay said, “If the research is successful, we could use COVID-19 detection dogs at airports at the end of the epidemic to rapidly identify people carrying the virus. This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”

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