Scientists testing whether specially trained dogs can detect coronavirus sufferers are calling for healthy and sick volunteers to take part in a trial.The Medical Detection Dogs charity is already confident the dogs will be able to sniff out the virus based on their pioneering work detecting other diseases such as cancer and diabetes .
But they need samples to train the canines onto the scent and prove their effectiveness before they can be rolled out to screen people in fast-paced settings such as airports.
Experts believe the six Labradors and Cocker Spaniels could be a ‘game-changer’ in opening up travel as they could each screen up to 250 people an hour and even detect symptomless carriers of Covid-19.The trial will be overseen by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in collaboration with the charity and Durham University, and needs thousands of volunteers in the North West, where there has been a recent rise in infections.
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They are seeking anyone with mild coronavirus symptoms who is due to have a swab test, or anyone who has had a swab test in the previous 24 hours.
Volunteers will be given a mask to wear for three hours and nylon socks and a T-shirt to wear for 12 hours in order to sample their breath and body odours.
Researchers hope to collect 325 positive samples and 675 negative ones in order to properly test the dogs’ accuracy.
Metro.co.uk revealed how the trial was ready to go as early as April but could not get underway due to unexplained delays in government funding decisions.
The project finally secured £500,000 in May for an initial phase of the trial using samples collected by NHS workers in hospitals. If the overall trial is successful more cash will be needed to integrate the scheme into the government’s testing programme.Claire Guest, chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said today: ‘It is vital that we train our dogs to detect the odour of Covid-19 as soon as possible so we can help ensure people move about freely and safely.
‘The latest travel disruptions further highlight the difference the dogs could make. Public support is essential in making this possible.
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‘Anyone who assists us by providing samples will be playing a part in creating a fast, effective and non-invasive diagnosis for the virus and safer spaces for us all.’James Logan, an LSHTM disease control expert leading the project added: ‘If successful, this trial could revolutionise how we diagnose the virus. Rapid screening of high numbers of people, even if asymptomatic, will help return our lives back to some sort of normality.’ Professor Steve Lindsay of Durham University’s biosciences department said: ‘If we can show that our trained dogs can identify people carrying the virus, but who are not sick, it will be a game changer.
‘We will then be able to scale-up the use of dogs at ports of entry to identify travellers entering the country with the virus. This could be very important to help prevent a second wave of the epidemic.”
Anyone who thinks they could be eligible to volunteer is asked to call the project at 0207 927 2777.
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