Trials have begun in the UK to find out if dogs can be trained to detect Covid-19. If successful, the bio-detection canines could be used as a “non-invasive” way to identify people sick with coronavirus.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) will carry out the first phase of the trial, working with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University. It will be funded by money from a £500 million ($ 605 million) UK government pot set up to assist “innovative schemes” in the fight against Covid-19.
Dogs are famous for their incredible sense of smell and have for years been used to detect drugs and explosives, as well as to track missing people. Recent research suggests that some dogs can detect certain forms of cancer in humans, as well as diseases such as malaria and Parkinson’s disease.
Medical Detection Dogs says that there’s evidence that the dogs, each capable of screening up to 250 people per hour, can be trained to detect the odor of disease “at the equivalent dilution of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.”
“Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy,” said Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell.
The hope is that the dogs, Labradors and Cocker Spaniels, will be able to identify the novel coronavirus even on asymptomatic carriers.
The UK has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, at nearly 237,000. The deadly pathogen has killed just under 34,000 people in Britain. Initially criticized for his slow reaction to the virus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed the country on lockdown in late March. These lockdown measures were eased this week, but some restrictions will remain in place for at least the summer.
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