We have bomb and narcotics detection dogs, now researchers are examining whether sniffer dogs can be trained to detect the deadly coronavirus disease. If they do, this can be very useful in airports and other points of entry.

A team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University have collaborated before in training dogs to detect malaria. Now, they are working on training dogs to help provide a non-invasive diagnosis of the virus.

They believe the dogs can provide testing by screening human accurately and rapidly, potentially up to 250 people per hour.

Six dogs – Norman, Digby, Storm, Star, Jasper, and Asher – are currently being assessed, half of them being rescue dogs.

The researchers used the same training method used to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, and other bacterial infections. They established a specific odor of Covid-19 and the dogs are trained to sniff samples of it in the training room. The dogs can also detect subtle changes in skin temperature, so they can potentially tell if someone has a fever.

“The samples that the dogs will be trained on at the center will be deactivated (dead) virus and therefore of no risk to the dogs or handlers,” says Dr. Claire Guest, CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs. “When sniffing people, the dogs will not need to make contact but will sniff the air around a person. The dogs will therefore not be in direct contact with the people screened to prevent the risk of spreading the virus.”

Professor Steve Lindsay at Durham University said if the research is successful, they can immediately start deploying the dogs to airports to rapidly identify the people carrying the virus.

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