Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ivor Bennett
Trials will soon begin to see if specially-trained dogs are able to detect coronavirus in humans - even before symptoms appear.
It is hoped the dogs will be able to detect the disease from odour samples.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) will carry out the first phase of a trial in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University, backed by £500,000 of government funding.
Footage shows how dogs are trained to sniff out malaria
Dogs are currently used to detect certain types of cancer and it is hoped they can be trained to detect Covid-19. They have also been able to detect malaria and Parkinson’s disease.
The dogs used in the trials will be a mixture of labradors and cocker spaniels.
Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: “Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy.
“Accuracy is essential so this trial will tell us whether ‘Covid dogs’ can reliably detect the virus and stop it spreading.”
If the trials are successful, the dogs could provide a fast and non-invasive detection method to sit alongside the Government’s five-pillar testing strategy.
The first phase of the trial will see NHS staff in London hospitals collect odour samples from people infected with coronavirus and those who are not.
Six bio detection dogs will then be trained to see if they are able to identify the virus from the samples.
Professor James Logan, lead researcher for the work and Head of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour, and with Medical Detection Dogs, we successfully trained dogs to accurately detect malaria.
“This, combined with the knowledge that respiratory disease can change body odour, makes us hopeful that the dogs can also detect Covid-19.”
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