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Current Affairs

Can dogs sniff Coronavirus?

Date: 22 May 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

The UK government has allocated funds to a specialist team of researchers who will work on finding out if dogs can detect COVID-19. The aim is to see if dogs can be trained to identify humans with the novel coronavirus before symptoms appear.

 

Background

Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and it is believed this innovation might provide speedy results as part of wider testing strategy for COVID-19.

 

Details

  • In the first phase of the trial, researchers will determine if dogs are able to detect the disease in humans from their odour, even in cases where the infection is asymptomatic.

  • Six dogs, a mixture of labradors and cocker spaniels, will be trained to identify the infection from samples collected from coronavirus patients by NHS staff in London hospitals.

  • If the trial gathers enough evidence, trained dogs will be used to carry out rapid screening of people coming to the UK from abroad.

  • Dogs are already used in detecting the presence of bombs, drugs and explosives in places such as airports. Dogs’ highly sensitive canine olfactory sensory system can detect some target substances at concentrations that are as low as parts per trillion.

  • Considering different diseases have unique odours, specialist dogs can be trained to detect them in humans. Therefore, for a highly infectious disease such as COVID-19, training dogs to detect the disease can screen scores of individuals with rapidity.

  • Tissues infected with pathogens release unique volatile biomarkers that become a part of a disease’s volatile organic compounds (VOCs) signature.

  • These VOCs that are emitted from the human body in exhaled breath, urine, sweat or faeces may reflect the metabolic condition of the individual.

  • When infected by an infectious or metabolic disease, this odour changes, which trained dogs may be able to detect.

  • Past research has established that dogs can be used to detect diseases such as malaria, prostate cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and breast cancer.