Somerset joins COVID sniffer dog trials

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust are playing a vital role in a major trial. The aim of the trial is to see if bio-detection dogs can sniff out COVID-19 in humans. Readers may be aware that some limited success has been achieved in dogs sniffing for cancer. In at least one double blind trial (in 2004) the dogs were able to detect bladder cancer. However other subsequent trials have resulted in inconclusive results.

This new trial will determine whether dogs could be used as a rapid non-invasive diagnostic tool for COVID 19. for the virus.Somerset NHS Foundation Trust staff are coming forward to provide samples of breath and body odour. They will wear a mask for three hours, and nylon socks and a t-shirt for 12 hours. They will also take a swab test to identify if they are infected with COVID-19.

Once the samples have been collected, they are taken to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Here they will be processed and analysed to identify compounds in odour that signify when someone is infected with COVID-19. The samples are then sent to the Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) training centre in Milton Keynes where the dogs will undergo training with the samples.

Should the trial be successful, these dogs could be deployed to key points of entry 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.

However whilst this is an interesting experiment, we should sound a note of caution. In the past early promising signs have not resulted in conclusive success for the sniffer dogs. That said, at this stage any new innovation that can speed up detection is going to be of great interest.

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