Durham University makes call for volunteers for Covid-19 detection dog trials


Durham University has released a call for volunteers in the North West of England to be involved in a trial which will determine whether dogs can be used to detect Covid-19.

The North West of England was picked for the trials because the region has experienced a recent outbreak of the virus. The researchers have released a plea for volunteers with mild coronavirus symptoms who are due to be tested or have in fact been tested in the previous 24 hours.

Volunteers will be asked to provide samples of breath and body odour by wearing a mask for three hours. They will also be asked to wear nylon socks and a t-shirt for twelve hours. These items will then be used to train the dogs as they will hopefully be able to detect the unique odour of Covid-19.

Researchers are hoping they will be able to collect around 325 positive and 675 negative samples in order to confirm the ability of the dogs to identify the virus. 

Professor Steve Lindsay, the lead academic in this research, was interviewed by the Independent and commented that this project “builds upon years of research that we’ve already done as a team to demonstrate that people who have a malaria infection have a distinctive body odour and we’ve shown that dogs can be trained to detect that with very high accuracy”.

He also said that “if this is successful and we show the same for Covid-19, this could completely revolutionise the way that we are tackling this disease.”, suggesting Durham could be at the forefront of a national effort to make detection of the virus more accessible.

“This could completely revolutionise the way that we are tackling this disease.”

Professor Steve Lindsay

It is hoped that should these trials be successful, these dogs can be utilised in airports in particular within the next six months, screening up to 250 people an hour, as has been shown to be possible in previous uses of Medical Detection Dogs. 

The first phase of the trial is being funded by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and is aiming to revolutionise the way Covid-19 is detected in the future, providing a less invasive method of detection.

Though Durham is leading the way with this research in the UK, similar studies are also being conducted in Germany at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover, research there boating an impressive 94% detection rate which will hopefully be mirrored by Durham researchers. 

Professor Steve Lindsay’s interview with the Independent is available to watch here.

Image: Medical Detection Dogs via Twitter

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