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NHS staff take part in Covid-19 sniffer dog trial
20 August 2020, 12:39
NHS staff are participating in a trial which aims to see whether dogs can smell Covid-19.
Scientists are seeking "odour samples" to see whether dogs can accurately pick up the scent of Covid-19, even in people who are asymptomatic.
There could be huge implications if the dogs can successfully smell out Covid-19, not just in medical settings but in other sectors of society too, with researchers estimating the animals could potentially screen up to 250 people an hour.
The NHS volunteers are being asked to provide samples of breath and body odour by wearing a mask for three hours, socks and a T-shirt for 12 hours.
Kettering General Hospital has seen 92 staff sign up to the trial and staff who are due to be tested as part of routine testing in the hospital are also giving their odour samples to researchers.
The hospital's lead nurse for research, Joanne Walsh, said: "Our contribution involves recruiting staff volunteers from colleagues who are about to have a Covid-19 swab test.
"After having their swab test we ask them to wear special nylon socks for 12 hours and a mask for three hours and then to bag these up and return them to us.
"We then send the samples, along with whether the person has tested positive or negative for Covid-19, to the team who are doing the research with the dogs in Milton Keynes."
Ten other hospitals are also taking part in the study.
It is hoped that across the country at least 3,500 staff will provide samples.
It comes after a drive encouraging people in England to also participate.
It is hoped that if the trial is successful the dogs can be used at UK airports to screen people arriving from abroad.
The trial is being led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University.
LSHTM researchers will analyse the samples to identify compounds in odour that signify when someone is infected with Covid-19.
The samples will then be sent to the Medical Detection Dogs' training centre in Milton Keynes where the animals will undergo training to identify the virus samples.
Patients who have mild Covid-19 symptoms and are due to have a swab test, or have had a swab test conducted in the previous 24 hours, are being recruited by researchers.
Professor Steve Lindsay, from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, said: "If we can show that our trained dogs can identify people carrying the virus, but who are not sick, it will be a game changer.
"We will then be able to scale-up the use of dogs at ports of entry to identify travellers entering the country with the virus.
"This could be very important to help prevent a second wave of the epidemic."
Project lead professor James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "If successful, this trial could revolutionise how we diagnose the virus, leading to the rapid screening of high numbers of people, even if asymptomatic, helping return our lives back to some sort of normality."
Claire Guest, head of Medical Detection Dogs, said: "Our dogs have already successfully detected different types of cancer, Parkinson's and malaria among other diseases which affect millions of people around the world.
"We are very proud that a dog's nose could be part of a solution to find a fast, non-invasive way of diagnosing Covid-19 and make a tangible difference to any future pandemics."