UK begins trial to check if dogs can sniff early symptoms of Covid-19

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on May 17, 2020

A lab technician inspects filled vials of investigational coronavirus disease (Covid-19) treatment drug remdesivir at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California (file pic)   -  via REUTERS

The UK has started a trial to see if “Covid-19 specially trained dogs” can detect coronavirus in humans, even before symptoms surface, BBC reported.

The trials will establish whether these dogs can be used as a potentially new non-invasive, early warning measure to detect coronavirus in the future.

The report added that researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are set to carry out the first phase of a trial in collaboration with the charity, Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University. The project is backed by 500,000 pounds of government funding, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

In the first trial, researchers will see if the dogs can whiff coronavirus in humans from odour samples.

The project is the joint collaboration of disease control experts from the UK, who have already trained dogs to detect various diseases, before including cancer, malaria, and Parkinson's disease.

According to Lord Bethell, UK Minister for Innovation, bio-detection dogs detect specific cancers and this innovation might provide speedy results as part of a wider testing strategy.

Accuracy is essential so this trial will tell whether Covid dogs can reliably detect the virus and stop it spreading, he added.

The initial phase of the trial will see the National Health Service (NHS) staff in London hospitals collect odour samples from people who are infected with coronavirus and those who are uninfected.

The six bio-detection dogs will then undergo thorough training to identify the virus from samples. Dogs that have been taken up for the trial are a mixture of labradors and cocker spaniels.

According to the study conducted by Medical Detection Dogs, more than 10 years of research has shown that each specially trained dog can screen up to 250 people per hour. They can also 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.

Professor James Logan, the lead researcher for the work and Head of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour, and with Medical Detection Dogs, we successfully trained dogs to accurately detect malaria.

The government, however, has maintained that the dogs will only be deployed if backed by strong scientific evidence.

Dr Claire Guest, co-founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, said as cited in the BBC report: "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.”

Published on May 17, 2020

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