‘Corona dogs’ may be able to sniff out who carries the coronavirus in a matter of seconds

June 2020 Corona Willem van Altena
Cute little dog looking up

The dog’s nose is perhaps one of the finest detection organs in nature, and the olfactory talents of canines have served human beings for thousands of years. And even now, scientists find keep coming up with novel ways in which dogs can help us out. In the UK, the university of Durham and the London school of Hygiene and Tropicala Medicine are currently training dogs to sniff out the corona virus.

The research project is being subsidized by the UK government. Lord Bethell, minister for Innovation says: “We already have bio-detection dogs that have been trained to detect specific types of cancer. And we think that ‘corona dogs’ may be able to provide quick results and could be a vital part of our testing strategy.”

Odor samples

Currently, six dogs are being trained, all Labrador retrievers and cocker spaniels, two breeds known for their keen sense of smell as well as their trainability. During a 10-week course the dogs will be familiarized with odor samples from people who have tested positive for COVID-19, but are asymptomatic. These samples are obtained from healthcare workers who tested positive. In order to obtain the odor samples they have to wear nylon socks and face masks that absorb the scent.

If the researchers and trainers succeed in training the dogs to smell the corona virus, this could mean a significant breakthrough in regards to fast testing. A dog can easily ‘test’ 250 persons per hour, and that is much faster than any test currently available. Corona dogs can easily be deployed at airports, but also in places where large groups gather, such as sports stadiums or festival venues. The British researchers hope to be able to tell by September or October whether they have succeeded in training the dogs. If this is the case, the corona dog may well become a familiar phenomenon.

Parkinson’s disease

The dogs are being trained by Medical Detection Dogs, an organization with previous experience in training dogs to recognize medical conditions. They have trained dogs to smell certain types of cancer, as well as malaria and Parkinson’s disease.

The British search for a ‘corona dog’ is not unique. Similar research is being conducted by Penn State University in Philadelphia, USA. And on the French island of Corsica, rescue dogs are currently being retrained in order to identify the corona virus. In Iran, the army has also started training dogs.