ENGLAND – For many years, dogs have been known as “mans’s best friend” – and for a good reason. Dogs have attributed to many important things such as sniffing out narcotics, pests, explosive devices, Parkinson’s disease and soon, even the coronavirus.
In England, a medical charity called Medical Detection Dogs, has successfully trained dogs to detect malaria and is now attempting to train dogs to identify the smell of COVID-19. The charity is partnering with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LHTSM) and Durham University in order to begin training dogs for the job. “There is absolutely no reason why a dog can’t detect the virus” says Dr. Claire Guest, a behavioral psychologist and principal member of the charity.
Dr Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs, says: “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”.
“We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odor so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionize our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful.”
According to CTV News, Medical Detection Dogs has worked with prostate cancer and the detection rate was as high as 80%. “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,” says Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University. According to James Logan, head of LSHTM’s Department of Disease Control, and his team, the detectable scent may be connected to the oxidative stress caused by infections. “Oxidative stress can release compounds into the blood, which can be released through your breath and skin,” Logan says.
However, not all dogs are suitable for this job. LSHTM is working with a few dogs – among them is a Labrador retriever and a cocker spaniel who possess both an excellent sense of smell and the ability to be trained. The training process may take a month to six weeks, but once trained, even a small number of dogs could make a major difference. “We have four or five dogs ready to go into training right now,” says Logan. “If we were able to deploy them within a month or two, we could screen maybe 4,000 to 5,000 people per day.” Thanks to dogs, the so-called “man’s best friend”, a more positive and hopeful future is offered.