Very Good Boys Are Being Trained To Sniff Out And Diagnose COVID-19

Dogs’ enhanced sense of smell has always been useful to humans. Man’s best friend has been trained to sniff out drugs, explosive devices, pests, natural disasters, and diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s.

And now, they’re being trained to diagnose COVID-19.

Medical Detection Dogs, the British medical charity that successfully trained dogs to detect malaria, is working in partnership with the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene School (LSHTM), and with Durham University, to train dogs to identify the smell of the novel coronavirus.

Clair Guest, a behavioral psychologist and the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, said that there is “absolutely no reason why a dog can’t detect the virus.”

“There have already been so many fantastic achievements in the dogs’ work to detect human disease, and I believe they can be trained to sniff out COVID-19.” If initial trials prove successful, the team plans to train six dogs.

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.”

This means that the dogs can act as first line of defense when diagnostic resources and testing kits are scarce, and they can do it quickly— The dogs are able to screen up to 750 people an hour.

“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,” according to Guest on the Medical Detection Dogs website.

Medical Detection Dogs

The dogs are trained by sniffing coronavirus patients’ face masks to detect whether the virus has a unique smell.

“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,” said James Logan, head of the department of disease control at LSHTM.

The process of identifying and isolating a smell the dogs can reliably recognize will take several weeks.

“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,” said Logan.

Medical Detection Dogs has previously trained dogs to detect prostate cancer with as high as 80% accuracy. The organization has produced over a dozen peer-reviewed papers over the course of many scientific trials with dogs, including work on the detection of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and malaria.

Medical Detection Dogs is accepting donations toward their COVID-19 initiative here, and be sure to read more about each of the super-smeller dogs up for coronavirus detection training on Twitter.

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca