Dogs are being trained to sniff coronavirus at UK airports

Six dogs are being assessed and trained to detect Covid-19 in passengers at UK airports once the lockdown measures are relaxed.

Charity Medical Detection Dogs hopes the dogs will play a vital role in preventing further spread of the pandemic in future. 

The six dogs, Norman, Digby, Storm, Star, Jasper and Asher are ready to be assessed to work on a project to train dogs to detect the virus, and their noses could pick up its scent in as little as 6 to 8 weeks. 

Norman, one of the six dogs being assessed (Medical Detection Dogs)

The Medical Detection Dogs charity will intensively train the dogs that pass the assessment to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the tail end of the epidemic. They are working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University play a vital role in preventing further spread of the pandemic in future. 

The collaborators have been speaking to government at the highest level and in the meantime launched a crowdfunder to start raising funds for the preliminary stages. 

If successful, the dogs could also be able to detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin.  

Once trained, the six dogs could lead the way for dogs to be used to identify travelers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces. 

The detection dogs are capable of sniff testing up to 750 people an hour.

If successful the charity will scale-up its operations rapidly to deploy the trained dogs during the ongoing pandemic Once trained, the  dogs could be deployed in ports of entry or to any public space, to provide rapid non-invasive triage screening for Covid-19.

The potential recruits could not be more different in terms of background and character, with half of them being rescue dogs, but they could all be life-savers.  The dogs range in age from 20 months to 5 years of age. They include three working cocker spaniels, a labradoodle, a labrador, and a labrador/golden retriever mix.

Star, another of the six dogs, (Medical Detection Dogs)

Dr Claire Guest, CEO and Co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said, “Our aim is that some of these amazing six dogs will be able to passively screen any individual, including those with no symptoms, and tell our dog handlers whether they have detected the virus.  This will then need to be confirmed by a medical test. 

“We will train them in the same way we train our other Bio Detection Dogs, in our training room, and then transfer them to detecting on individuals in a similar way to our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs,” Guest said.

The samples that the dogs will be trained on at the centre will be deactivated (dead) virus and therefore of no risk to the dogs or handlers,” Guest said. “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.”

Guest told the BBC Today programme, “People are coming in and may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic those few days when you’ve got the virus and don’t know it.

“A dog is sniffing each person in turn – it takes 0.5 of a second, the dog quickly identifies which people need a test and need to go straight into isolation to prevent the further spread around the UK,” Guest said.

The charity has cautioned it has yet to be to proven that Covid-19 has a distinctive odor. However, it adds that if Covid-19 does change body odor then it is confident that the dogs will be able to detect the associated odors.

Dogs are proving their immensely value in the battle against the coronavirus crisis. Earlier this month a Belgian shepherd from France trained in detecting molecules traveled to London to conduct tests on whether she can smell the coronavirus. Meanwhile, a famous surf dog will offer her services as a therapy dog for frontline healthcare workers in online sessions.

For more information on the crowdfunder click here.

Storm, Lab/Golden retriever mix (Medical Detection Dogs)


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