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Training dogs to sniff out Covid-19

Researchers in the UK are testing whether dogs can be trained to detect people with coronavirus.
Researchers in the UK are testing whether dogs can be trained to detect people with coronavirus. © Reuters / France 24

Using dogs’ powerful sense of smell to detect people with Covid-19 could revolutionise how the disease is identified and tracked, according to scientists in the UK who on Saturday were awarded government funding to research the theory.

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The study is being carried out by Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, along with the charity Medical Detection Dogs, and will use facemasks and clothing worn by Coivd-19 patients to test if canines can identify the virus.

Dogs have already been shown to be able to detect a number of diseases using smell, including certain cancers and malaria.

“It builds up on years of research that we’ve already done as a team to demonstrate that people who have a malaria infection have a distinctive body odour and we’ve shown that dogs can be trained to detect that with very high accuracy,” lead researcher Professor James Logan of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told Reuters.

“So, if this is successful and we show the same for Covid-19, this could completely revolutionise the way that we are tackling this disease.”

Other countries are carrying out similar research, including in France where trials began in Corsica last month to re-train rescue and fire brigade sniffer dogs to detect the virus by teaching them to associate the smell of swabs taken from Covid-19 patients with their favourite toys.

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