Durham’s Covid sniffer dogs begin real-world use

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Durham University’s research into dogs with the ability to detect positive cases of Covid-19 is now being tested in real-world environments.

The program, conducted in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and the charity Medical Detection Dogs, began in May earlier this year, with trials that used over 3500 odour samples donated by members of the public and NHS staff. Of these samples, the dogs were able to detect 91% of positive cases.

Reggie, Maple and Storm, will be put to work in “real-life workplaces” as part of the next stage of research. The majority of the dogs on the program are labradors or golden retrievers, breeds which have the most developed sense of smell.

The dogs can even detect Covid in people who are asymptomatic

The next stage of research was prompted after the trial revealed that “dogs are one of the most reliable biosensors for detecting according to the Chief Scientific Officer at Medical Detection Dogs. “Our robust study shows the huge potential for dogs to help in the fight against Covid-19.”

The dogs can even detect Covid-19 in people who are asymptomatic, regardless of whether it is a high or low viral load.

The canines, plus a confirmatory PCR test for those detected, are estimated to discover more than twice as many cases and prevent transmission.

Mathematical models suggest that two bio-detection dogs could successfully screen 300 plane passengers in around 30 minutes. The research has applications beyond Covid-19, as the dogs could be used in future outbreaks for other diseases, and could be built into countries’ pandemic planning strategies.

Professor Steve Lindsay, from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, said: “Dogs could be a great way to screen a large number of people quickly and preventing Covid-19 from being re-introduced into the UK.

Trained dogs could potentially act as a fast screening tool for travellers with those identified as infective confirmed with a lab test. This could make testing faster and save money.”

Earlier this year a Palatinate investigation revealed that the sniffer dogs reported a higher detection rate than the LFTs promoted by the University, which correctly identify on average 72% of symptomatic cases of the virus, and only 58% of asymptomatic cases. The sniffer dogs, on the other hand, report 94% accuracy.

Image: Neil Pollock /Medical Detection Dogs

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