Sniffer dogs 'could be used to curb Covid-19 spread in busy places'

·2-min read

Sniffer dogs could be used to help curb the spread of Covid-19 at airports, train stations or large spectator events.

Scientists believe trained canines could prove useful in busy places as lockdown measures ease, after a study found dogs could be taught to recognise a distinctive odour produced by people with coronavirus.

Dogs' sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more effective than humans and they have been long used to sniff out drugs and explosive materials in public places.

The study found that dogs were able to detect 88 per cent of people with Covid-19, but they also incorrectly identified 14 per cent of people as having the virus.

"(This study offers) further evidence that dogs are one of the most reliable biosensors for detecting the odour of human disease," said Dr Claire Guest, Chief Scientific Officer at charity Medical Detection Dogs, which trained the animals.

In the study, six dogs were trained to detect the smell of Covid-19 on face masks, T-shirts and socks and identify it as different from people suffering from a common cold. The dogs were able to sniff out the majority of people with the virus, even when an individual had no symptoms or a low level of coronavirus in their system.

Previous studies have shown breeds such as retrievers and spaniels are able to recognise the unique smells produced by people with diseases including malaria, cancer and Parkinson's.

Professor James Logan from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine believes sniffer dogs could prove a "suitable method for mass screening" in crowded spaces as they can detect the disease in a matter of seconds - much faster than the quickest lab tests, which take around 15 minutes. This could speed up the process of safely boarding flights, and attending concerts or a sporting event, but the findings would need to be confirmed with a lab test.

Experts believe the use of trained dogs followed by swab testing could pick up 91 per cent of infections.

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