Researchers in the United Kingdom have received government funding to determine if dogs can detect COVID-19 through scent, which could lead to a new form of tracing the spread of the disease.
Britain’s health department announced Saturday it has granted 500,000 pounds ($853,000 CAD) toward the research, which will be conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Durham University and a British charity, Medical Detection Dogs.
Innovation Minister James Bethell said the clinical trial will help determine whether so-called “COVID dogs” can reliably detect the disease, and even stop it from spreading.
“Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy,” Bethell said in a statement.
Samples of the odour of COVID-19 patients from London hospitals will be provided to six labradors and cocker spaniels, who will be trained to distinguish the smell from that of people who are not infected.
The goal is to make the dogs able to detect COVID-19 in people even if they aren’t showing any symptoms.
“If successful, this approach could revolutionize how we detect the virus, with the potential to screen high numbers of people,” said lead researcher James Logan, who heads the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Researchers say an individual dog could check up to 250 people an hour and be used in public spaces and at airports.
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According to Medical Detection Dogs, canines have already proven they can detect some forms of cancer through the same kind of training, along with Parkinson’s disease and malaria.
The government says the dogs will only be deployed to detect COVID-19 “if backed by strong scientific evidence.”
The U.K. isn’t the only country that has turned to dogs in an effort to sniff out the novel coronavirus.