Forget sticking a swab down my throat, bring me the puppers!
Dogs are the definition of perfection, and it’s no surprise they’re considered man’s best friend. They’re noble animals, always happy and cheerful, adorable, and extremely intelligent. And if that doesn’t seem enough of a reason to love them, we’ve got some paw-esome news for you. There’s now a chance that dogs could help doctors detect COVID-19.
Scientists have known for years that people who are sick with certain diseases emit particular odors, and dogs have an incredible ability to pick up on those chemicals and odors. They’re able to detect when people have malaria, infectious bacteria, and even certain types of cancer. This has given scientists high hopes of taking advantage of dogs’ sharp sense of smell to identify people who have COVID-19.
Public health entomologist Steve Lindsay, along with collaborators at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the non-profit organization Medical Detection Dogs, is working on a study that will test the ability of dogs to detect COVID-19. They aim to train dogs to do so with their powerful sense of smell so that they can work at schools, airports, and other public places.
The head of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, James Logan, gave TIME his insight on the work they’re doing. “We’re not just doing the proof of concept work, we’re also working out actively how to deploy this and scale it up as well, because we want to hit the ground running once we’ve gotten our results,” he mentioned.
While research and tests are still being done, there have been some promising results already. In July, for example, German researchers ran a small pilot study that showed dogs were able to identify coronavirus-positive samples after only one week of training. Other countries are already using the help of fluffy pals to scan for COVID-19. The Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, as well as many airports in the United Arab Emirates, already hired canines for this purpose.
Steve Lindsay’s study aims to test dogs’ abilities on people with various degrees of symptoms. “What we want particularly is for our dogs to be picking up asymptomatic people,” he says. “If they do that, that’s even better because we’ll pick up people early.”
Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, says she hopes her group will be ready to publish the results based on the next research phase in the next six to eight weeks. If their findings check out, researchers estimate that within six months we’ll be able to see detection dogs more often and in more places. Hopefully, those results will be paw-sitive!