In a trial conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University, it was revealed that Covid-19 has a distinctive smell that dogs can detect with a 94% accuracy.
3758 socks masks and t-shirts that had been worn by people infected by Covid were used in the trial and were donated by the public and NHS staff. To ensure that there was no chance of bias, they ran tests where the dog, technician, and dog trainer were not aware which of the samples tested positive or negative for the virus.
The six dogs that were trained to detect the smell came from the charity Medical Detection Dogs and were intensively trained in Milton Keynes. The dogs, Millie, Kyp, Lexi, Marlow, Asher, and Tala managed to pick up the scent in 6 to 8 weeks. It is believed that they will be able to play a vital role in preventing the further spread of the pandemic in the future.
The findings of the trial highlighted that people infected either with asymptomatic or mild symptoms give off a distinctive odour that can be identified with a high degree of accuracy. By using dogs, it can provide a rapid and effective tool for screening large numbers of people at airports and concerts, etc.
One of the reasons why the trial was conducted was to instil confidence in people to travel and by re-opening and invigorating economies that rely on travel or large numbers of people. As we are now starting to open up after lockdown, it is important that we manage to control the spread of Covid within communities, ports-of-entry, and other places where large numbers of people congregate. As new variants emerge, there is a growing need and demand for rapid and sensitive testing methods to ensure border biosecurity.
Medical Detection Dogs were formed in 2008, to train companion dogs to detect odour changed in people with type 1 diabetes, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. They are increasingly being used to recognise biomarkers contained in human breath, skin, and urine produced by diseases and health conditions.