Can Dogs Learn to Sniff Out Coronavirus in Humans? Researchers Are Trying to Find Out

"The aim is that dogs will be able to screen anyone, including those who are asymptomatic," said one researcher

Cute dog
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Man’s best friend to the rescue?

Researchers are currently looking into whether dogs can be taught to accurately detect the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in humans, even among people who are asymptomatic.

Working together with Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is starting preparations on a project that aims to train dogs to sniff out the virus.

“It’s early days for COVID-19 odor detection,” said James Logan, head of LSHTM’s Department of Disease Control. “We do not know if COVID-19 has a specific odor yet, but we know that other respiratory diseases change our body odor so there is a chance that it does. And if it does dogs will be able to detect it.”

“Our previous work demonstrated that dogs can detect odors from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy — above the World Health Organization standards for a diagnostic,” he added.

Past studies have also found that dogs are able to detect lung cancer in human blood with 97 percent accuracy.

Researchers aim to teach dogs to identify coronavirus by having the canines smell and identify samples in a training room, some of which will contain the virus.

After the training is complete, the dogs could be used to help provide non-invasive testing at airports and other public places — and could potentially screen up to 250 people per hour, according to the researchers.

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“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19,” said Dr. Claire Guest, CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dog, adding that they’re currently figuring out how to “safety catch the odor 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,” Guest explained. “This would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed.”

Added Steven Lindsay, a professor at Durham University: “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.”

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