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Could man's best friend be able to join the efforts in minimizing the spread of COVID-19? A new one-of-a-kind COVID-19 project is trying to find out whether or not medical detection dogs are able to sniff out the virus on people.
If successful, the dogs could smell up to 750 people an hour, bringing a huge relief to the current shortage of testing. The project is a collaboration between the Medical Detection Dogs charity, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and Durham University, all based in the U.K.
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Six dogs ready to be trained
Medical detection dogs have already been trained to be able to detect diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and malaria. So the COVID-19 project leads are now trying to see whether these dogs are also able to sniff out COVID-19.
Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at the LSHTM, said, "It’s exciting because the project could move at speed as there are six dogs ready to be trained."
In order to decipher if they are indeed able to smell the virus, over the next few weeks, the dogs will smell fabrics worn by coronavirus patients. That will prove whether or not the disease has a specific smell that the dogs can detect.
If indeed the six dogs are able to smell the virus, they could detect whether or not someone has the disease in a matter of half a second.
Dr Claire Guest, CEO and founder of the Medical Detection Dogs charity, mentioned that "There have already been so many fantastic achievements in the dogs’ work to detect human disease, and I believe they can be trained to sniff out Covid-19."
Guest continued "When resources and testing kits are low, hundreds of people can’t be tested in one go. But the dogs can screen up to 750 people really quickly. By identifying those who need to be tested and self-isolate, they can stop the spread."
However exciting this potential news may be, Professor Logan cautioned that "The first thing we need to do is establish whether there is a distinct odour from COVID-19 and if dogs can detect it. We need samples to do that."
"We have to follow protocols with the samples, as they are highly infectious and we need to ensure they’re safe. We know that other respiratory diseases change our body odour, and if there is a distinct odour, we are confident the dogs will detect it."
Moreover, Professor Logan stressed that if their COVID-19 project goes forward in roughly eight weeks' time, following successful tests, this dog-friendly method might replace current COVID-19 tests.
"As you might see drug detection dogs walking up and down the line, the same would happen with Covid dogs looking for the infection. If they give us the information, we will advise people to self-isolate. Longer term, we could use them in schools or places where there are large numbers of key workers."
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