Could dogs help detect COVID-19?


Could dogs help detect COVID-19?


A team of scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the charity Medical Detection Dogs, and Durham University announced that they want to explore the potential use of using dogs to detect COVID-19.

There is existing evidence that dogs are able to detect various diseases – see our article here.

“Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odors from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy — above the World Health Organization [WHO] standards for a diagnostic,” says Prof. James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM.


Dogs ‘could revolutionize’ diagnostics

The various organisations are currently crowdfunding their initiative.

Although the team acknowledge that it is unclear whether or not COVID-19 is detectable in a person’s body odour, they hypothesise that it is due to available evidence on other respiratory conditions.

“It’s early days for COVID-19 odor detection. We do not know if COVID-19 has a specific odor yet, but we know that other respiratory diseases change our body odor so there is a chance that it does,” explains Prof. Logan.

“And if it does dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionize our response to COVID-19.”

The proposal suggests that medical detection dogs specially trained to detect COVID-19 could assist in screening for the disease in the long run. The dogs may be able to sniff up to 250 people per hour, therefore providing a fast and non-invasive method of detection.


Dogs may ‘sniff out’ asymptomatic cases

Training the dogs would involve getting them to sniff odour samples from people with COVID-19 and teaching them to identify the smells associated with the disease. The dogs may also be able to immediately identify people with a fever, as they can sense small changes in skin temperature.

The team believe that, if successful, the dogs may be able to screen for COVID-19 after only 6 weeks of training.

In the long run, these dogs could be used in a variety of places, such as airports, where they may be able to detect travellers who may have contracted the virus.

“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,” suggests Prof. Steve Lindsay, from Durham University.

Commenting on the initiative, Claire Guest - co-founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs - says: “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,” she says, “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 [National Health Service] testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”

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