Researchers training dogs to smell coronavirus

Detecting COVID-19 was the aim in a new dog-focused study done in the UK in April 2020. Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LHTSM) believe they've got a real shot at training dogs to detect the illness in humans. This project's outline suggests they're aiming to have these dogs deployed in as little as two months, here in the year 2020.

The LSHTM Department of Disease Control have worked on projects like this before. LSHTM worked with the charity Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) to train dogs to detect malaria. Dogs have also successfully been trained to detect a wide range of substances (like drugs) and elements present in the bodies of humans, cancers and illnesses nonwithstanding.

LSHTM Department of Disease Control head James Logan suggests that the project is in its early stages. "We know diseases have odors — including respiratory diseases such as influenza — and that those odors are in fact quite distinct," said Logan in a CityLab interview. "There is a very, very good chance that Covid-19 has a specific odor, and if it does I am really confident that the dogs would be able to learn that smell and detect it."

The group currently has "four or five" dogs prepared to go into training right this minute. "If we were able to deploy them within a month or two, we could screen maybe 4,000 to 5,000 people per day," said Logan. These dogs would potentially be used to screen students entering schools, medical or care staff, or people entering other areas that'd potentially act as a petri dish for spreading disease – like airports.

Per the crowdfunding campaign associated with this project, their first step is collecting odor samples from humans infected with COVID-19, as well as control samples. "Then, we will use those odour samples with 5 dogs that are already pre-trained and awaiting training with the COVID-19 samples. Through an intensive training programme, we will test the method rigorously and, if successful, we could deploy dogs within as little as 6 weeks."

You can learn more about this program at Medical Detection Dogs or throught the link in the paragraph above. Take a peek at the timeline below for more recent updates on COVID-19, as well!