Medical Detection Dogs has announced it will begin to intensively train six dogs in the hopes that they can detect the coronavirus strain in humans.
The charity believes the dogs could provide a “rapid, non-invasive” diagnosis of the virus. It is now working alongside the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University to facilitate the programme.
The six dogs in question must first be assessed to work on the project, and once they successfully pass, they could be fully-trained to detect the virus in six to eight weeks.
The collaborators have been in close talks with the government regarding the programme, and have also launched a crowdfunder to start raising funds for the preliminary stages.
If successful, the dogs could also be able to detect subtle changes in temperature of the skin. Once training is complete, the programme could allow dogs to be used to identify travellers entering the country infected with the virus or be deployed in other public spaces.
Dr Claire Guest, CEO and co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “Our aim is that some of these amazing six dogs will be able to passively screen any individual, including those with no symptoms, and tell our dog handlers whether they have detected the virus. This will then need to be confirmed by a medical test.
“We will train them in the same way we train our other Bio Detection Dogs, in our training room, and then transfer them to detecting on individuals in a similar way to our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs.”
She added: “The samples that the dogs will be trained on at the centre will be deactivated (dead) virus and therefore of no risk to the dogs or handlers.
“When sniffing people the dogs will not need to make contact but will sniff the air around a person. The dogs will therefore not be in direct contact with the people screened to prevent the risk of spreading the virus.”