As we grapple to find solutions for the coronavirus pandemic, our four-legged friends may be able to give us a helping paw.
Medical Detection Dogs, a UK nonprofit that trains bio-detection canines to detect diseases, has teamed up with researchers to see if dogs can sniff out the coronavirus.
“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect Covid-19,” says Dr. Claire Guest the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs. In the past, the canines have been trained to smell out other life-threatening health conditions, including malaria, cancer and Parkinson’s.
Medical Detection Dogs is working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University to train dogs to “provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis” of the coronavirus in situations where test kits may not be available or detection needs to be done at scale.
The dogs are being trained by sniffing samples of COVID-19 in a safe setting to learn the scent of the virus. They will also be able to detect changes in temperature on the skin, which can be useful for determining if someone has a fever.
“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,” says Dr. Guest. “This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS (National Health Service) testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”
The hope is these dogs will be ready in about six weeks, at the tail-end of the pandemic, and when the government will need ways to integrate people back into their community, yet, keep them safe.
“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,” says 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.”