UK trial to use dogs to detect COVID-19

A UK trial is currently investigating whether dogs’ sense of smell can help detect cases of COVID-19, something that could revolutionize the process of screening people for the virus. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 May 2020

UK trial to use dogs to detect COVID-19

  • High numbers of people could be screened by a single dog, expediting process at borders, hospitals.

LONDON: It is common knowledge that a dog’s sense of smell, far superior to a human’s, can be deployed for a number of causes beneficial to society.

At airports worldwide, dogs are used to check people and luggage for signs of illegal drugs and other illicit goods, while some breeds are also used by police forces to help track fugitives or locate missing people.

But a UK trial is currently investigating whether dogs’ sense of smell can help detect cases of COVID-19, something that could revolutionize the process of screening people for the virus.

The trial, being conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Durham University and the Medical Detection Dogs charity, has been allocated £500,000 ($605,185) by the UK government to assess the use of dogs as a non-invasive virus-detection method. 

 

 

The trial is expected to last up to three months, while similar trials have also been launched in France and the US.

Six dogs — labradors and cocker spaniels — will be taught to distinguish between the scent given by people with COVID-19, and those who do not have the disease, by being given various samples of each.

The samples will be presented to the six dogs on swabs and other sources, including used face masks.

The use of dogs as detectors of medical conditions, though not as well-known as their use in policing and border control, is not new — certain breeds can be taught to detect malaria, Parkinson’s disease and several types of cancer. They are known as “bio-detection dogs.”

If the UK trial proves successful, it is estimated that a single dog could screen 250 people per hour for COVID-19, expediting the process at airports and elsewhere.

“They have the potential to help by quickly screening people, which could be vital in the future,” said Dr. Claire Guest, co-founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs.

“We are sure our dogs will be able to find the odor of COVID-19, and we will then move into a second phase to test them in live situations, following which we hope to work with other agencies to train more dogs for deployment. We are incredibly proud that a dog’s nose could once again save many lives.”

Prof. James Logan, head of the department of disease control at the LSHTM, said: “If successful, this approach could revolutionize how we detect the virus, with the potential to screen high numbers of people.”

The UK’s Innovation Minister James Bethell said the use of dogs in other medical environments to detect ailments gave the government hope that the trial could bear fruit and deliver “speedy” results.

“Accuracy is essential,” he added, “so this trial will tell us whether ‘COVID dogs’ can reliably detect the virus and stop it spreading.”


France’s cafes, restaurants reopen, but in Paris, only the terraces

Updated 11 min 6 sec ago

France’s cafes, restaurants reopen, but in Paris, only the terraces

  • Eating and drinking establishments prepared to welcome back customers in the second phase of a step-by-step lifting of lockdown
  • In Paris, cafes, bars and restaurants will be limited to outside terraces

PARIS: French people head back to their beloved cafes and restaurants Tuesday after weeks cooped up in coronavirus confinement, marking a further step toward normality.
As thousands thronged parks and gardens reopened over the weekend, eating and drinking establishments prepared to welcome back customers in the second phase of a step-by-step lifting of lockdown.
“We have spent several hours cleaning,” said Theo Stuzmann, head waiter of the renowned Maison Kammerzell restaurant in Strasbourg, eastern France.
And a second, more thorough disinfection was due before they opened on Tuesday, he told AFP.
“Optimism reigns today,” said Herve Becam of the UMIH hospitality union, welcoming the return of reservations.
French people can again “live a life which is almost normal,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week, as he announced the reopenings.
But in Paris, where the coronavirus remains more active than in the rest of mainland France, cafes, bars and restaurants will be limited to outside terraces.
To cater for the expected rush back to the city’s eateries, the city council gave special permission for tables to be placed on sidewalks, parking spots and other public places. Several roads will also be closed to car traffic.
The government credits France’s strict lockdown, which lasted from March 17 to May 11, with saving thousands of lives by relieving pressure on hospitals, but is eager to restart an economy devastated by the measures.
The country, which has suffered nearly 29,000 deaths, also faces an “historic recession,” says Philippe, and a sharp rise in unemployment claims.
The spread of the virus appears to be under control in most of France, designated “green zones’.
But the Paris Ile-de-France region and the overseas territories of Guiana and Mayotte, still in the higher-risk “orange” category, face a slower easing of the lockdown restrictions.
Across the country, public gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned until June 21. And people still have to wear masks in public transport, stations and airports.
People can dine together in restaurants in groups of no more than 10, but with a minimum one-meter (3.3 foot) distance between tables.
But all beaches can reopen from Tuesday, and weddings can once again be celebrated.
Primary and middle schools will open countrywide, as well as high schools in green zones — but progressively and with a limited number of pupils per class.
Epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the scientific council advising the government, struck a note of caution.
“Every day, there are five new (outbreak) clusters... we have had more than 100 clusters declared since May 11, so we can see that the virus is still present,” he warned on BFMTV.
France’s StopCovid mobile app, that will alert users if they have been in close proximity of someone tested positive, will also come into use on Tuesday.
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