- Doctors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are raising funds to train dogs to detect coronavirus patients by smell.
- Dogs can already be taught to identify various diseases, including malaria and Parkinson’s.
- If successful, dogs able to sniff out COVID-19 patients could be deployed in crowded places in the future for screening purposes.
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We told you a few weeks ago that doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are looking to train dogs to detect coronavirus patients by smell. If successful, this sort of screening process could help authorities manage crowded areas like airports once social distancing measures are eased in the UK and other countries. The goal of the program is to teach the dogs to sniff out asymptomatic COVID-19 patients and therefore reduce the spread of the virus. The LSHTM program is raising money on Indiegogo right now.
With 15 days left in the crowdfunding campaign at the time of this writing, they were able to raise just over $5,300 out of a flexible goal of over $1.24 million. Dogs can already be trained to detect all sorts of medical conditions, including malaria and Parkinson’s. They might be able to identify a smell that could be specific to coronavirus patients, the doctors believe.
“It’s very early stages,” LSHTM’s Department of Disease Control head James Logan told Bloomberg. “We know diseases have odors — including respiratory diseases such as influenza — and that those odors are, in fact, quite distinct. There is a very, very good chance that COVID-19 has a specific odor, and if it does, I am really confident that the dogs would be able to learn that smell and detect it.”
The doctors have trained labradors and cocker spaniels to detect malaria, and their success rate exceeds WHO standards.
That doesn’t mean success is guaranteed for COVID-19 detection. What may be especially challenging is finding a specific smell in asymptomatic patients rather than patients who already exhibit symptoms. Whatever the case, we’ll know more details in the coming months when the LSHTM might have some conclusions.
COVID-19 won’t disappear overnight and screening measures will be required until a vaccine is ready. Otherwise, we’ll risk outbreaks similar to what we’re experiencing right now.
Dogs aren’t the only tool that might be used to screen for coronavirus patients in the future. Extensive COVID-19 testing campaigns, including coronavirus immunity tests, could follow in the coming months. Apple and Google have devised a contact tracing system that could work worldwide to caution participating smartphone users that they may have been in the vicinity of a confirmed COVID-19 patient. Smart wearable devices like Rokit T1 glasses could also be used to monitor temperature in crowded areas and detect a fever, which is a common COVID-19 sign.