Sniffer dogs ‘could detect passengers with coronavirus at airports’

Dr Claire Guest said dogs could provide rapid screening for Covid-19
Dr Claire Guest said dogs could provide rapid screening for Covid-19 (Picture: This Morning)

Dogs could screen passengers arriving at airports for coronavirus , it is claimed.

Dr Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs – which already does pioneering work in cancer research and diabetes detection – believes that dogs could also be trained to sniff out coronavirus, even in asymptomatic cases.

She said: ‘If you can imagine 500 people coming off a plane, you need to detect quickly which patients need the test and need to be isolated. The dog could work very rapidly. It makes the progress of the disease much easier to track.’

Dogs would do rapid screening of passengers, who would then have a medical test to confirm if they had the disease if they were flagged.

Dr Guest told This Morning that dogs have an incredibly precise sense of smell, able to pick up on human blood sugar levels, cortisol levels, cancer and Parkinson’s, for example. She said a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in the equivalent of two Olympic sized swimming pools, whereas a human can detect it in a cup of tea.

To be able to detect coronavirus, a dog would need to learn the smell of it using samples from patients.

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The charity has a crowdfunding appeal to raise £1,000,000 to carry out more research into the potential, which they claim could take pressure off the NHS which only has capacity for limited testing.

They said: ‘Dogs are one of the world’s greatest biosensors, capable of detecting odours associated with drugs, explosives and food and are now being used in practice for public health.

Freya correctly detects a sample of malaria from a row of sample pots (Picture: Getty)
‘In light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, there is a chance that we could use dogs as a rapid diagnostic screen to detect infected individuals and we need your help to get this project off the ground.

The money will be used to collect odour samples from patients infected with coronavirus as well as a sample group who do on have the virus.

These samples will be given to five dogs that are already trained in detecting conditions through smell.

If their training with Covid-19 is successful, the dogs could be deployed to airports or public spaces in order to provide non-invasive triage screening for the deadly infection.

‘These dogs can screen up to 750 people per hour and would support ongoing efforts to test for Covid-19,’ the charity said.

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Medical Detection Dogs trainer Rob Harris runs a training exercise with dog Florin. Medical Detection Dogs is looking into whether man's best friend could play a role in preventing the spread coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Milton Keynes, Britain March 31, 2020. Picture taken March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs
Medical Detection Dogs trainer Rob Harris runs a training exercise with dog Florin (Picture: Reuters)

‘Once we have trained the first dogs and have set training protocols, we could engage other agencies, at home and abroad, to increase the number of working teams.’

Medical Detection Dogs has made it clear that it has not yet been proved that Covid-19 has a distinctive odour, but it believes that if it does, the charity’s dogs will be able to detect it.

Any unspent funds raised will be donated to the Covid-19 Response Fund, the charity said.

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