Volunteers wanted for Durham’s Covid-19 sniffer dog trial

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A research trial involving Durham University is looking for volunteers to help test whether dogs can sniff out Covid-19 in humans.

The trial, which is a collaboration between Durham, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Medical Detection Dogs, will determine whether dogs can be used as a rapid, non-invasive means of diagnosing the virus.

The researchers are aiming to recruit thousands of people in England who have mild Covid-19 symptoms and are due to have a swab test, or have had a swab test conducted in the previous 24 hours. Around 325 positive and 675 negative samples need to be collected.

Volunteers will be asked to provide samples of breath and body odour by wearing a mask for three hours, and nylon socks and a t-shirt for twelve hours. These samples will be taken to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine for analysis, then to the Medical Detection Dogs’ training centre in Milton Keynes, where six dogs will undergo training to identify the virus based on the samples.

If the trial succeeds, these dogs could be deployed to airports in the UK within six months to assist with the rapid screening on people travelling from abroad, with the potential of screening up to 250 people per hour.

Medical Detection Dogs, which has already spent over ten years researching dogs’ sense of smell, has shown in the past that dogs can detect malaria in humans. The lead scientist from Durham involved in the trial is Professor Steve Lindsay of the Department of Biosciences.

The six dogs involved in the trial are cocker spaniels Norman, Jasper and Asher, labradors Storm and Star, and labradoodle Digby. The trial’s patron is HRH Duchess of Cornwall, who came to visit the dogs in Milton Keynes last month.

If you are interested in volunteering, have mild Covid-19 symptoms and are due to take a swab test for the virus (or have in the last 24 hours), please call the research team on 0207 927 2777 or send an email to coviddogs@lshtm.ac.uk. If accepted to participate in the trial, you will be sent a sample collection pack.

Photo: Neil Pollock

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