BRITISH authorities have announced plans to start using dogs to detect the Covid-19 virus under a pilot programme that will involve labradors and cocker spaniels sniffing out humans who are carrying the virus.
It is well-known fact that dogs have a better sense of smell than humans, which is why they are used at airports to check people and luggage for signs of illegal drugs and other illicit goods. Also, some breeds are used by police forces to help track fugitives or locate missing people by following their scents.
Already, in France and the US, this experience is being put to use in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the UK authorities have decided to follow suit. Under the plan, trials being conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Durham University and the Medical Detection Dogs charity, will use dogs as a non-invasive virus-detection method.
To get the project going, the UK government has already allocated a sum of £500,000 ($605,185) to the initiative. It will involve six dogs, labradors and cocker spaniels, taught to distinguish between the scent given by people with Covid-19 and those who do not have the virus.
Samples will be presented to the six dogs on swabs and other sources, including used face masks, enabling them to detect the smell of the virus. If the UK trial proves successful, it is estimated that a single dog could screen 250 people per hour for Covid-19, expediting the process at airports and elsewhere.
Dr Claire Guest, the co-founder and chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “They have the potential to help by quickly screening people, which could be vital in the future. We are sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of Covid-19 and we will then move into a second phase to test them in live situations, following which we hope to work with other agencies to train more dogs for deployment.”
Professor James Logan, the head of the department of disease control at the LSHTM, added: “If successful, this approach could revolutionise how we detect the virus, with the potential to screen high numbers of people.”
James Bethell, the UK’s innovation minister said the use of dogs in other medical environments to detect ailments gave the government hope that the trial could bear fruit and deliver speedy results. Adding that accuracy is essential, he added that the trial will tell whether Covid dogs can reliably detect the virus and stop it spreading.