- Coronavirus testing might look a lot different in crowded areas if this trial project is successful: Scientists from the UK are looking to see if dogs can recognize patients by a particular smell.
- Dogs have already been trained to sniff out other medical conditions, including cancer, malaria, and Parkinson’s.
- Dogs able to recognize a particular smell for COVID-19 patients could help authorities prevent transmission in crowded places and prevent future outbreaks.
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Extensive testing for the novel coronavirus is a crucial weapon against the pandemic, as seen in countries like South Korea, which was able to significantly flatten the curve, and Germany, which is testing an average of 500,000 people a week. COVID-19 screening can help authorities get a better picture of the number of active cases in hot zones, and provide early care to everyone testing positive, especially the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions.
The problem many countries have to face is that there aren’t enough test kits to go around. But what if dogs could sniff out people who are infected and pinpoint them in a crowd?
The charity Medical Detection Dogs partnered with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on a trial to see if dogs can sniff out COVID-19 patients.
The charity has trained dogs to spot malaria, cancer, and Parkinson’s patients, as each disease has its own scent, BBC reports. LSHTM head of disease control Professor James Logan said that research proved dogs could detect malaria infections by odor with a level of accuracy “above the World Health Organization standards for a diagnostic.”
That doesn’t mean good boys will be as good as recognizing a particular smell for the novel coronavirus, of course. But if they are, they could be used in all sorts of cases to sniff out potential carriers within large groups of people. The dog test would then be confirmed by an actual COVID-19 test.
The dogs could be ready in six weeks, assuming the trial yields positive results. However, this method of testing will be of limited use, considering it can’t be scaled to meet current needs. But the dogs might be useful down the road to prevent the reemergence of COVID-19 and catch future outbreaks early.
The charity is studying ways to “safely catch the odor of the virus from patients,” according to its boss, Dr. Claire Guest. It’s not just safety for humans, but also from dogs. A 17-year-old Pomeranian tested positive in Hong Kong. Initially, it wasn’t clear whether the dog had the disease, but successive tests showed he developed antibodies for the infection. The dog was released back home after testing negative, but then died of old age.
Separately, a French medical body urged per owners to wash their hands after petting them, as the risk of catching the new coronavirus from animals has yet to be ruled out.