Man’s best friend could be set to play an important role in preventing the spread of coronavirus, with trials starting to see if special ‘Covid dogs’ may be able to detect symptoms before they appear.
The Government has committed £500,000 in funding for the trials which will form part of research into potentially non-invasive early-warning methods of detecting the virus.
The trials, based in London, will look to see if specially-trained ‘bio-detection dogs’ could be used as a new rapid, non-invasive testing measure by detecting coronavirus in humans from odour samples.
Six dogs – labradors and cocker spaniels – will be given samples of the odour of COVID-19 patients from London hospitals, and taught to distinguish their smell from that of people who are not infected.
Dogs are already known to be able to sniff out diseases such as cancer, malaria and Parkinson’s disease, and it is thought that respiratory diseases like Covid-19 may also change a person’s odour.
The first phase of the trials will be conducted by researchers at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) and Durham University.
Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: “Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy.
“Accuracy is essential so this trial will tell us whether ‘Covid dogs’ can reliably detect the virus and stop it spreading.”
Research gathered by MDD has shown that the dogs can be trained to detect the odour of disease at the equivalent dilution of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.
The charity estimates that each animal could screen up to 250 people per hour once trained.
Professor James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the LSHTM, said he was “hopeful” of success.
“Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour, and with Medical Detection Dogs, we successfully trained dogs to accurately detect malaria,” he said.
“This, combined with the knowledge that respiratory disease can change body odour, makes us hopeful that the dogs can also detect Covid-19.
“If successful, this approach could revolutionise how we detect the virus, with the potential to screen high numbers of people.”