Can dogs be trained to sniff out Covid-19?
Medical Detection Dogs, a UK NGO founded in 2008 on the premise that dogs can be trained to sniff out diseases, is hoping this is the case.
They are working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University. This team recently collaborated to successfully prove that dogs can be trained to detect malaria.
In addition to malaria, the NGO has already trained dogs to detect cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections by sniffing samples and indicating when they have found it.
Professor James Logan is Head of Department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Director of ARCTEC — the Arthropod Control Product Test Centre. He says: “Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic. We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it."
Durham University Professor Steve Lindsay suggests that if the research is successful, COVID-19 detection dogs coukd be used at airports 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.”
Besides dogs, there are other examples of using animals to sniff out diseases. In Tanzania, rats have been successfully trained to sniff out tuberculosis.
The Tanzanian study shows that when trained African pouched rats were given children's sputum samples to sniff, the animals were able to pinpoint 68 percent more cases of TB infections than detected through a standard smear test.
The training technique is similar to that of using these rats used to sniff out landmines.
I wonder if Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania has thought of this and is working on it? I'll ask some East African friends on Monday... Meanwhile, check out these medical detector dogs in action.
(To my fellow humans in the Far East, this is a reminder that dogs are friends, not food.)