Covid-19 Medical Detection Dogs Project
What if detecting asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 was as simple as taking a dog for a walk? Medical Detection Dogs could be deployed to any public space, providing rapid, non-invasive screening for COVID-19 of up to 250 people per hour – to supplement ongoing testing.
What does the project solve?
The funding from the Royal Canin Foundation will help to train Medical Detection Dogs to identify the odour of COVID-19, even when the person displays no symptoms. The dogs will then be deployed to public spaces to provide rapid, non-invasive screening of large groups of people for COVID-19.
Trained dogs are now successfully used in the detection of, and assistance for, human medical issues. For example, dogs can sense small changes in volatile organic compounds produced by the human body associated with disease. Dogs have been trained to detect cancer in patients, alert diabetics that their blood sugar is low or high and detect other diseases including malaria, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections.
Medical Detection Dogs research has indicated that dogs are capable of detecting tiny traces (around one part per trillion – the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools). But what if dogs could begin to detect COVID-19 to help provide rapid, non-invasive screening?
2020 had been an incredibly difficult year with COVID-19 touching all of our lives around the world. With the pandemic continuing in 2021, the world we know today has changed. According to the World Health Organisation, since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 to May 2021, there has been 162 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the globe, sadly including more than 3.3 million deaths.
Results: the highest performing dogs in the trial detected the odour of the virus in the samples with up to 94.3% sensitivity (meaning a low risk of false negative results) and up to 92% specificity (meaning a low risk of false positive results). This is a greater accuracy than recommended by the World Health Organization for COVID-19 diagnostics.
Dogs are now being trained to be deployed to work in real-world scenarios. This training is going well: dogs could soon be seen in settings such as transport hubs, sporting events conferences etc.
Expected Outcome: This research will form a template for the implementation of fast, reliable and non-invasive screening of COVID-19 in high traffic areas.
Volunteers including National Health Service (NHS) staff and their families will provide samples of breath and skin odours by wearing face masks & socks provided to them by the COVID-19 detection dogs study.
The dogs have been trained over a number of weeks by introducing them to the odour samples from individuals that had tested positive for COVID-19, as well as control samples from people who had tested negative. Samples were presented to the dogs on a stand system and the dogs were rewarded for correctly indicating a positive sample, or for correctly ignoring a negative sample.
Six dogs were then taken forward to the important ‘double-blind’ trial where the dog, technician and dog trainer were not aware of which samples were positive or negative. This removes any risk of inadvertent bias or behavioural cue that the dog could pick up on to indicate the correct response. These dogs were tested using 200 positive samples and 200 negative samples.
What if detecting asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 was as simple as taking a dog for a walk?
Medical Detection Dogs could be deployed to any public space, providing rapid, non-invasive screening for COVID-19. Two dogs could screen up to 300 people in half an hour – to supplement ongoing testing.
The dogs could also be used in public spaces to indicate those individuals who may be COVID-19 positive and would require confirmatory PCR testing. This would be a rapid, non-invasive early warning system with the potential to quickly identify those individuals who need to self-isolate, reducing the spread of the disease.
Medical Detection Dogs is a charity that is at the forefront of innovative research into dogs’ ability to detect the smell of human diseases and help save lives. The charity focuses on establishing strong scientific and evidence-based research and works in collaboration with academic institutions, both in the UK and internationally, and National Health Service Trusts. It has already been proven that dogs can accurately detect the odour of some human disease.
Last year Medical Detection Dogs celebrated its twelfth year as a registered charity and Royal Canin UK and Ireland is proud to have supported them during every step of their journey.
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