Could we be turning to man’s best friend to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Milton Keynes-based charity Medical Detection Dogs believe that dogs could, with training, detect the disease and be used to identify travellers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.
Medical Detection Dogs recently worked with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University to successfully prove that dogs can be trained to detect Malaria.
The same collaboration have now started preparations to intensively train the dogs so they can help to provide a non-invasive diagnosis of COVID-19. Dogs are also able to be trained to detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin, so could potentially also tell if someone has a fever.
CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs, Dr Claire Guest, said on the Medical Detection Dogs website: “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.”
The charity has, for years, been successfully researching the science behind dogs’ sense of smell. They have produced more than a dozen peer-reviewed research papers which support its belief that each disease has its own unique odour.
Professor James Logan, Head of Department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Director of ARCTEC, 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.”
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.”