Dogs are being trained to sniff out coronavirus - here’s how it works

Friday, 27th March 2020, 3:16 pm
Updated Friday, 27th March 2020, 3:16 pm

A medical charity has announced that it now believes dogs could be able to smell coronavirus.

Medical Detection Dogs, a charity that currently aids Parkinson’s disease, diabetes detection and cancer research, has claimed dogs' ability to “detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin” could help determine if someone has a fever.

The charity, based outside Milton Keynes, hopes this discovery will soon be used to halt the spread of the virus by providing a speedy and non-invasive diagnosis.

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How soon could the dogs be used?

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University has been working alongside the charity, and the consensus is that dogs could be trained to detect the virus within a mere six weeks.

In a video statement uploaded to the charity’s Twitter page today (Mar 27), Dr Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder, said, “We are looking into this very carefully. We’ve approached the government and we are in collaboration with many individuals who have a huge understanding of viruses. Watch this space. I really do hope we will be able to do something with our wonderful dogs to save lives.”

In an earlier statement, Dr 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 testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”

Professor James Logan, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said, “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organisation 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.”

It is believed the dogs could be easily trained in the same manner as those which detect diseases such as cancer. This involves sniffing samples in the charity’s training facilities for familiarisation and, subsequently, detection.

How could these dogs be used in the long term to fight the virus?

Professor Steve Lindsay at Durham University has suggested that, upon completion of successful research, the trained Covid-19 detection dogs could be used at airports at the end of the outbreak to rapidly identify people carrying the virus. This could help to prevent the disease from re-emerging once the present pandemic has been controlled.