COVID-19 sniffing medical detection dogs could be deployed across the UK after new research found they can detect coronavirus with 94% accuracy.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) – alongside the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University – have found that well-trained dogs can detect the virus’ distinct smell, even in patients who are asymptomatic.
The study, which has yet to be peer reviewed, suggests detection dogs could be used to screen members of the public at points of entry into the UK and that two dogs would be capable of screening up to 300 people in around 30 minutes.
James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the LSHTM, said: “The results of this study far exceeded my expectations.
“With the threat of new variants entering the country, the need for testing means we face potential continued disruption for some time to come.
“That’s where these amazing dogs could play a role. Further research is needed to see if the dogs can replicate these results in a real-world setting, but these findings are hugely encouraging.”
Prof Logan added: “The advantage of using this method is being able to detect COVID-19 with incredible speed and good accuracy among large groups of people, even in asymptomatic cases.
“This study and the exciting potential of using dogs to tackle COVID-19 would not have been possible without the volunteers from the public and NHS, and I want to thank everyone who donated valuable odour samples.”
As research continues, pet food manufacturer Purina and Medical Detection Dogs have called for restrictions on how long and how frequently detection dogs will be able to work.
Purina has donated £100,000 towards Medical Detection Dogs’ training and potential deployment of the COVID-19 dogs in public spaces.
Jeff Hamilton, chief executive of Nestlé Purina PetCare, said: “These dogs could provide fast, effective and non-invasive diagnosis, and help to create safer spaces for us all, but we should ensure that each of them is trained safely, humanely and able to effectively perform their important role in detecting COVID-19.
“That is why we, along with Medical Detection Dogs, are calling for international knowledge sharing, supporting the creation of best practice principles. We believe this can represent a vital first step in helping researchers to agree how sniffer dogs can be best deployed internationally, and will potentially aid in the cost-effective, reliable rollout of schemes in countries around the world.”
Medical Detection Dogs founder and chief executive Claire Guest said: “It is vital that we collaborate and share the knowledge we have gained on the incredible abilities of our dogs, and formalise best practice in training and deployment.
“Our vision is to guarantee that dogs are well-treated and consistent in their performance, and support the reliable, safe creation of similar schemes in developing countries, where dogs could play a huge role in halting the spread of this disease and future pandemics.”
Credit to: Dogs highly effective at sniffing out COVID-19 (Vet Times)
Vet Times. (2021). Dogs highly effective at sniffing out COVID-19 [online]