Trial begins to see if dogs can 'sniff out' COVID-19

Updated: May 17, 2020, 07:25 IST | Agencies | London

Claire Guest, the charity's co-founder and chief executive, said she was 'sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of COVID-19'

A dog is taught to find a piece of fabric infected with the COVID-19 bacteria during a training session in France. Pic/AFP
A dog is taught to find a piece of fabric infected with the COVID-19 bacteria during a training session in France. Pic/AFP

A trial in the UK to see whether specialist medical sniffer dogs can detect Coronavirus in humans is set to begin, it was reported on Saturday. The dogs are already trained to detect odours of certain cancers, malaria and Parkinson''s disease by the charity Medical Detection Dogs, said the report. The first phase of the trial will be led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, along with the charity and Durham University. It has been backed with 5,00,000 pounds of government funding.

The trial will explore whether the "COVID dogs"—made up of labradors and cocker spaniels—can spot the virus in humans from odour samples before symptoms appear. It will establish whether the so-called bio-detection dogs, each capable of screening up to 250 people per hour, could be used as a new early warning measure. The first phase will involve National Health Service (NHS) staff in London hospitals collecting odour samples from those infected with Coronavirus and those who are uninfected. Six dogs will then go through training to identify the virus from the samples.

Claire Guest, the charity's co-founder and chief executive, said she was "sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of COVID-19". "If that proves to be the case, the dogs 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," she said. James Logan, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, "Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour, and we have successfully trained dogs to accurately detect it."

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