Research into Covid-19 detector dogs begins

Dogs could be used in the fight against Covid-19 – by being trained to sniff out infected people.

Researchers in Australia have begun the training of 14 dogs in a feasibility study and the animals could become part of the screening process for incoming visitors if successful.

Studies have previously shown dogs can detect particular odours – known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – which are produced by humans when they are suffering with a viral infection.

Dr Anne-Lise Chaber of the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences said the current training – in Adelaide and at the Australian Border Force’s National Detector Dog Program Facility – will test the accuracy of dogs detecting VOCs in sweat samples from people infected with coronavirus.

The research will not involve the dogs directly sniffing people who have tested positive.

She said: “Dogs could be deployed in airports and also be used to screen staff in hospitals and travellers in quarantine.”

The most widely used test for Covid-19 is Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which sees a swab taken from a person’s nasal passage or from the back of their throat.

It is then tested to see if the virus’s genetic material, called RNA, is present.

Studies have suggested specialised working dogs can detect Covid-19 VOCs in patients when people are asymptomatic or in the incubation phase, the latter of which may not always be detected via a PCR test.

Research partner Dr Susan Hazel added: “The dog’s nose beats the best current technology in identifying infected people.

“Using a scientific approach to dog training, we hope to increase the number of possible uses for future detector dog work.”

The results from the trials are expected early next year and could lead to further research being carried out in the community, the researchers said.

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