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Durham University

Durham University News


UK Government supports Covid-19 detection dogs trial

(16 May 2020)

The UK Government has awarded a specialist team of researchers more than £500,000 to find out if specially-trained bio-detection dogs could be used as a new rapid testing measure for Covid-19.

The initial stage of the research aims to determine whether the dogs are able to detect coronavirus in humans from odour samples.

The project is a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University. The team has previously worked together to successfully prove that dogs can be trained to sniff out the scent of malaria.

Disease detection

Bio-detection dogs have already been shown to effectively detect specific conditions such as malaria, Parkinson’s disease and some cancers in humans with high levels of accuracy. Now this trial will look at whether dogs can be trained to detect coronavirus in people too, even if they are asymptomatic.

If the trial gathers sufficient evidence, the first set of dogs could be deployed to key points of entry into the UK within six months to assist with the rapid screening of people travelling from abroad.

The initial phase of the trial will see the collection of samples from NHS staff in London hospitals, following which six bio-detection dogs, a mixture of Labradors and Cocker Spaniels, will undergo thorough training.

Testing method

More than ten years of research by the charity, Medical Detection Dogs has shown that dogs, which could each screen up to 250 people per hour, can be trained to detect the odour of disease at the equivalent dilution of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.

If successful, these dogs could provide a fast and non-invasive detection method to support additional testing efforts used for Covid-19.

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