In the UK researchers are working hard to test if medical detection dogs can sniff out COVID-19. If so, this could help massively in our response as these dogs could sniff 750 people an hour helping narrow down who needs a test and who needs to self isolate. These amazing dogs could also help detect COVID-19 in people not showing symptoms.
Several organisations and universities are working together on the research. It is being explored by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (or LSHTM), Durham University and the Medical detection Dogs Organisation.
It will take several weeks of experimentation before they will discover if dogs are able to identify COVID-19. Right now the researchers aren’t sure if COVID-19 has a specific odour which medical detection dogs can smell. What is known is that other respiratory diseases change our body odour, so there is a chance COVID-19 will do this.
Medical detection dogs are already used to help screen for a range of conditions including cancer, malaria & parkinson’s.
Claire Guest, CEO of the Medical Detection Dogs charity noted that she believed these dogs can be trained to sniff out COVID-19. Initially the plan will be to train 6 dogs if the trials are successful. (It’s also great to add a lot of these dogs are rescues. We’ve added a picture below of one of the 6! His name is Norman!) So keep your fingers crossed.
Are you wondering if dogs really can smell a disease?
Dogs have smell receptors 10,000 times more accurate that humans. This means they are highly sensitive to odours we can’t even smell. In 2019 a study was conducted where 4 dogs were trained in detecting cancer. 1 dog didn’t really like the job and quit. The other 3 were able to correctly identify cancer samples 96.7% of the time and were able to detect non-cancerous samples 97.5% of the time. This is a huge level of accuracy and in the fight against COVID-19 it would help inform who should be tested or asked to self isolate. (Of course this is assuming the same level of accuracy in sniffing for COVID-19.)
There have also been many stories where owners have said their dog knew something was wrong. In 2019 a lady named Linda credited her dog with her checking for breast cancer. Her dog Bea jumped up on her and started smelling around her breasts, Bea had never done this before, although Linda didn’t pay much attention to it at first Bea kept doing it for several days.
Linda checked her breasts but couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. Bea kept up this new behaviour and Linda kept inspecting herself regularly. After 2 months she made a worrying discovery. She had found a lump.
After visiting the doctors, it was found to be a fast spreading form of great cancer. Linda got started on treatment straight away and after 3 chemotherapy sessions her dog Bea stopped the behaviour. After 6 months of treatment and an operation Linda is on the mend, her speedy diagnosis was key in her treatment being successful. We’ve added a picture of Linda below with Bea on the left and Enya on the right.
All in all it looks like dogs detecting COVID-19 could happen in the near future, if they can it’s just another amazing trait of dogs. If you want to support the charity behind medical detection dogs you can check them out HERE.
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