ACADEMICS from the region will look into whether sniffer dogs could play a role in preventing the spread of Coronavirus.

Charity Medical Detection Dogs will work with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University to test if its specially-trained dogs can detect the virus.

A previous collaboration proved dogs can be trained to sniff out the scent of malaria.

Medical Detection Dogs has spent years researching the science behind dogs’ sense of smell and believes they could detect the disease. It adopts a rigorous, scientific approach to its work and has produced more than a dozen peer reviewed research papers supporting its belief that each disease has a unique odour.

The team has now started preparations to intensively train dogs so they could be ready in six weeks to help provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis towards the end of the epidemic, and approached government about how dogs can play a role in the fight against the disease.

Dogs searching for COVID-19 would be trained in the same way as those the charity has already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing samples in a training room and indicating when they have found it. They can also detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin, so could tell if someone has a fever.

Trained dogs could identify travellers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.

The Northern Echo:

Professor Steve Lindsay, from the department of biosciences at Durham University, said: “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.”

Dr Claire Guest, CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19. We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odour of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs.

“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.”

Professor James Logan, head of department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and director of ARCTEC said: “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. This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful.”