Coronavirus: Tests to begin to see if dogs can detect Covid-19 before symptoms appear

The trials are part of research into potential early-warning methods of spotting the virus

Labradors are among the dogs taking part in the trials. File photograph: Getty Images

Labradors are among the dogs taking part in the trials. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Special “Covid dogs” are to begin trials in the UK to see if they are able to detect symptoms of coronavirus before they appear.

The trials will form part of research into potential non-invasive, early-warning methods of detecting the Covid-19 virus, and are being backed by £500,000 of government funding,

The dogs, which are already used to sniff out diseases such as cancer, malaria and Parkinson’s disease, will be given intensive training to spot Covid-19 before symptoms appear.

The first phase of the trials will be conducted by researchers at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) and Durham University.

It will determine whether the six dogs, a mixture of labradors and cocker spaniels, are able to detect coronavirus in humans from odour samples.

They will be trained using samples from people who are infected with coronavirus and those who are uninfected, as some respiratory diseases are known to change body odour.

UK under-secretary for innovation Lord James 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.

‘Hopeful’

Prof 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.”

Dr Claire Guest, co-founder and chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “We are sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of Covid-19 and we will then move into a second phase to test them in live situations, following which we hope to work with other agencies to train more dogs for deployment.

“We are incredibly proud that a dog’s nose could once again save many lives.” – PA