In the not-too-distant future, will they be able to sniff out COVID-19, aka coronavirus, as well?
That’s a potential goal of Medical Detection Dogs, a nonprofit organization based in England that trains dogs to detect diseases in human urine, breath and swab samples. Medical Detection Dogs is planning to work with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University to see if dogs can also be trained to detect COVID-19. This team previously successfully trained dogs to sniff out malaria.
“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19,” Claire Guest, the founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, said in a press release. “We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odor of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs.”
Once those odor samples can be obtained, it will take six weeks to train dogs “to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic,” according to the press release.
To train the dogs, they will sniff samples from people infected with COVID-19 along with those from people without the virus. They will indicate, usually by sitting down, when they smell COVID-19. Dogs are also able to detect slight changes in the temperature of human skin, so they can help determine if someone has a fever.
The trained dogs may be deployed to airports and other public places to help detect people with the coronavirus.
“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,” Guest said. “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 ability of dogs to detect COVID-19 will be “profoundly impactful” in the months to come, according to James Logan, head of the department of disease control at LSHTM.
Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University, said having coronavirus-sniffing dogs in public places “would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”
There is currently no evidence that dogs can get the coronavirus from people, or that we can get it from dogs or cats. Here are some tips for what dog owners should do if they are infected with the coronavirus.
Photo: Mark Watson/Flickr