Dogs have already been trained to sniff out malaria, Parkinson’s disease, and many types of cancers. Now experts are hoping man’s best friend can also detect COVID-19.
According to the BBC, the UK-based non-profit Medical Detection Dogs is partnering with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to trial this theory by running the strains of the novel coronavirus past their crop of trained detection dogs.
“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect Covid-19,” Dr. Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, told the BBC. The challenge is determining a way to safely capture the scent of the virus from infected patients.
But if the team can find a way to overcome these logistical hurdles, using detection dogs to sniff out the scent of COVID-19 could be a game-changer – especially as the U.S., U.K., and other countries suffer from an extreme shortage of testing kits.
“This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed,” Dr Guest said, referring to the UK’s national healthcare system, which (again, like the U.S.) is also short on ventilators, staff, protective gear, and hospital beds.
Detection dogs have proven highly accurate in past cases, said Prof James Logan, the head of disease control at LSHTM. Studies suggest that dogs can detect malaria infection with an accuracy that exceeds even WHO detection standards. Dogs can also be trained to tell if people are running a fever – one of COVID-19’s most telling symptoms.
Coronavirus-sniffing dogs wouldn’t just help get a handle on the current pandemic; they could help prevent future outbreaks by screening passengers at the airports, where passengers unwittingly carry diseases like COVID-19. “This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control,” said Steve Lindsay, a professor from Durham University’s Department of Biosciences.
If these trials are a success, COVID-19 detection dogs could be ready in 6 weeks to provide “rapid, non-invasive diagnosis,” according to Medical Detection Dogs. Wash your hands and cross your fingers! Dogs really are our best friends.
J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.