Medical Detection Dogs is looking into whether man’s best friend could play a role in preventing the spread of Coronavirus.
Medical Detection Dogs will be working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University, bringing together the team which recently collaborated to successfully prove that dogs can be trained to detect malaria.
Together they have started preparations to intensively train dogs so they could be ready in 6 weeks to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic, and approached government about how dogs can play a role in the fight against the disease.
Dogs searching for COVID-19 would be trained in the same way as those dogs the charity has already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing samples in the charity’s training room and indicating when they have found it. They are also able to detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin, so could potentially tell if someone has a fever.
Once trained, dogs could also be used to identify travellers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.
Dr Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs, says: “In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19. We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odour of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs.
“The aim is that dogs will be able to screen anyone, including those who are asymptomatic and tell us whether they need to be tested. This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”
Professor James Logan, Head of Department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Director of ARCTEC, said: “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic.
“We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful.”
Professor Steve Lindsay at Durham University says: “If the research is successful, we could use COVID-19 detection dogs at airports at the end of the epidemic to rapidly identify people carrying the virus. This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control.”
Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 Dogs
Medical Detection Dogs has spent over ten years successfully researching the science behind a dog’s sense of smell. Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Dr Claire Guest believes that dogs have the potential to detect the virus COVID–19. The charity has always adopted a rigorous scientific approach to its work and the results of its work have been published in a number of peer reviewed research papers. These results have further supported Dr Guest’s belief that diseases have their own unique odour that dogs have the ability to detect.
In principle, we are sure that dogs have the potential to detect COVID-19.
How will our dogs be able to help?
Our aim is that our COVID–19 detection dogs will be able to passive screen any individual, including those who are asymptomatic, and indicate to our dog handlers whether they have detected the COVID–19 virus. This will then need to be confirmed by a medical test. This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.
If our research is successful, we may be able to use COVID-19 detection dogs in public places such as airports. This would help prevent the second wave of the disease after we have brought the present pandemic under control.
When will they be ready?
We have a number of intensively pre-trained detector dogs that could be made ready in 6– 8 weeks.
How many dogs will you train?
The initial phase will see 6 Bio Detection dogs undergo intensive training to be ready in 6– 8 weeks. After this, we will then move into a second phase where we will train a further intake of dogs.
How will you train them?
Dogs searching for COVID-19 would be trained in the same way as those dogs the charity has already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing samples in the charity’s training room and indicating when they have found it. Following this training we would then transfer to detecting on individuals and the detector dogs would work in a similar way to our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs.
Is it safe for the dogs?
We will keep in constant contact with scientists and veterinarians to confirm this, however it is believed that this is completely safe for dogs to perform this duty. Scientists have found that although COVID-19 is a novel virus that originated from animals and was passed on to humans, dogs cannot contract the disease. The dogs will be trained on non-infectious samples and will not need to make contact with the individuals they are screening.
Will dogs spread the virus?
No, our dogs will be trained on a dead virus and then have no contact with the individuals they are screening but will sniff the air around the individual. The dogs will only be permitted to be touched by the handler, which therefore means there will be very low risk of spread of the virus from the dog to their handler.
How will you get samples to train the dogs?
The dogs will be trained on samples obtained from our collaborators at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Why are you now working on human patients when you usually work on samples?
We believe our dogs will be able to help and detect individuals who have the COVID–19 virus, even those who are a-symptomatic, and by directly screening people rather than samples we will be able to quickly and effectively screen more individuals.
How much will it cost?
We require funding of £1 million to complete this work.