LONDON, England – Researchers in the United Kingdom are attempting to train dogs to sniff out COVID-19 cases among humans to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said in late March that its team had begun intensively training canines so they could be ready in about six weeks to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the outbreak.
The researchers, who also include people from the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University, believe that their dogs could supplement ongoing testing by screening for the virus accurately and rapidly, potentially screening up to 250 people per hour.
These dogs have already been trained to detect diseases like cancer, malaria, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing samples in a training room and indicating which contains a disease or infection, according to LSHTM.
The dogs are also reportedly able to detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin, so could potentially tell if someone has a fever.
“Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odors from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organization standards for a diagnostic,” said Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM and Director of ARCTEC.
The team says dogs could be trained to search for COIVD-19 in the same way.
“It's early days for COVID-19 odor detection,” said Logan. “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. And if it does dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionize our response to COVID-19.”
Logan told The Daily Mirror that six dogs are ready to be trained.
Once trained, LSHTM says the dogs could also be used at ports of entry to identify travelers entering the U.K. who are infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.
“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,” said Professor Steve Lindsay at Durham University. “This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”
The Mirror reports that this project is the online of its kind in the world.
Logan told the Mirror that the dogs would not replace the tests being used now to detect the virus, but the pups would work “almost in triage-type scenarios.” He gave the example that the dogs might act in the same way drug dogs do at airports. Down the line, the canines could be used in schools or places where there are large numbers of essential workers.