A British charity has teamed up with scientists to see whether dogs could help detect COVID-19 through their keen sense of smell, it said yesterday.
Medical Detection Dogs is to work with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University in northeast England to determine whether canines could help with diagnoses.
It follows previous research into dogs’ ability to sniff out malaria and is based on a belief that each disease triggers a distinct odor.
The organizations said that they had begun preparations to train dogs in six weeks “to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic.”
The charity has previously trained dogs to detect diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections by sniffing samples taken from patients.
They can also detect subtle changes in skin temperature, potentially making them useful to determining whether a person has a fever.
“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19,” Medical Detection Dogs founder and chief executive Claire Guest said.
“We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odor of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs,” Guest said. “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 [British National Health Service] testing resources are only used where they are really needed,” she said.
The head of disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that dogs could detect malaria with “extremely high accuracy” and, as other respiratory diseases changed body odor, there was a “very high chance” it could also work with COVID-19.
Detection dogs could be deployed at airports at the end of the epidemic to rapidly identify people carrying the virus, helping prevent the re-emergence of the disease, Steve Lindsay from Durham University said.
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