WebMD News Brief

UK Trial Tests Whether Dogs Can Sniff Coronavirus

big dog sitting for trainer

My 16, 2020 - A new trial in the United Kingdom will study whether dogs that are trained as medical sniffers can detect the coronavirus in infected humans.

Previously, dogs have been trained to detect malaria, Parkinson’s disease and some types of cancers, according to Medical Detection Dogs, the UK charity that runs the training program.

“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,” said Claire Guest, CEO and co-founder of the organization.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University will work with Medical Detection Dogs to do the trial. Dogs would learn to distinguish the scent by sniffing samples during training, which would be collected from patients at London hospitals. The trial has received more than 500,000 pounds in funding, according to Durham University.

Respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 change a human’s body odor, so the researchers believe there is a “high chance” that dogs could detect it. Dogs could potentially detect differences in temperature that could indicate a fever, too.

If successful, dogs could be ready after a six-week training program, according to the organization. Within six months, trained dogs could be deployed to airports and borders to identify infected travelers.

“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.

The dogs could potentially screen up to 250 people per hour, the BBC reported. Called “bio-detection dogs” or “Covid dogs,” the group of six trial participants would include Labradors and cocker spaniels.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 18, 2020

Sources

BBC, “Coronavirus: Trail begins to see if dogs can ‘sniff out’ virus”

Medical Detection Dogs, “Medical Detection Dogs is looking into whether man’s best friend could play a role in preventing the spread of coronavirus.”

Durham University, “UK government supports COVID-19 detection dogs trial.”

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