Could sniffer dogs detect COVID-19?
You are probably already familiar with sniffer dogs at airports looking for drugs and other prohibited items, but their skills don’t stop there.
Many diseases can alter the way we smell and the use of medical detection dogs in identifying cancers, changes in blood sugar levels and even predicting seizures is becoming much more common. Now researchers at NUH are part of a clinical study to see if some of nature’s greatest detectives, can help identify COVID-19.
How this study will help COVID-19 patients
People with COVID-19 do not always have symptoms (asymptomatic). This study, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Durham University and the charity Medical Detection Dogs, is investigating whether dogs may be able to identify asymptomatic patients, as well as those who have mild symptoms (symptoms not requiring treatment, hospital stay or limiting normal activities).
It is thought that a single medical detection dog stationed within an airport would be able to screen up to 750 people for COVID-19 infection in just 1 hour, informing those who are infected to isolate, preventing further spread of the disease.
Working with Team NUH
In order to determine whether it is possible for dogs to accurately detect COVID-19, samples from people who have COVID-19 and those who don't are needed. Members of Team NUH are being asked to help provide those samples.
Staff and members of their households are being asked to donate samples of breath and sweat when they are undergoing a test for COVID-19 from September 2020 onwards.
In addition, people with mild COVID-19 symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19 will also be asked to take part via hospitals, testing centers, outbreak testing programmes and home testing programmes.
How it will work
We're asking for volunteers from Team NUH who are undergoing COVID-19 tests or who have had a swab test within the last 72 hours to contact the NUH Research Team. To take part you will need to collect samples of breath odour and body odour by wearing and then donating face masks, T-shirts, and nylon socks. A sample collection pack for this will be issued to every volunteer. Once your COVID-19 test results are confirmed, you will be asked to report these to the NUH Research Team so that they can be matched against the donated masks, socks and shirts, and sent to London where they will be processed.
The study will aim to confirm whether dogs are able to distinguish between positive and negative samples using traditional sniffer dog training methods. If this is possible, the research will continue to determine the accuracy (known as sensitivity and specificity) of the dogs’ ability to identify the virus. Both the handler and the dogs themselves will be ‘blinded’ to the samples, and thus unaware of which sample is which. When the data generated by these tests is entered, it will be confirmed whether or not the samples have been correctly identified.
For more information
If you are a member of NHS staff and would like to volunteer to provide samples for this research, then please contact our Research Team: Kirsty Topham or Rebecca Nicol by email or telephone: 0115 969 1169 extension 71774 or extension 72008.