Could man’s best friend could play a role in preventing the spread of COVID-19? After recently collaborating to prove that our canine friends can be trained to detect malaria, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), ARCTEC, Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University aim to find out.
The team has begun preparations to intensively train dogs so they could be ready in six weeks to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic.
Increasing coronavirus testing is key, and the team has approached the government about how dogs can play a role in the fight against the disease.
The researchers believe that the dogs could supplement ongoing testing by screening for the virus accurately and rapidly, potentially triaging up to 250 people per hour.
Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM and Director of ARCTEC, says: “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organization standards for a diagnostic.
“We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful.”
Dogs searching for COVID-19 would be trained in the same way as those dogs already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing samples in the training room and indicating which contains the disease or infection.
They are also able to detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin, so could potentially tell if someone has a fever.
Once trained, dogs could also be used at ports of entry to identify travellers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.
Dr Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder 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 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.”
Professor Steve Lindsay at Durham University says:
“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.”