After weeks of lockdown, several states are finally starting to see improvement in the fight against coronavirus. States including Hawaii and Pennsylvania are taking small steps toward reopening, but infectious disease experts say the key to fully lifting state-wide shutdowns will be in the testing and identification of asymptomatic carriers. Conducting large-scale testing will be no easy feat, but that’s where dogs are expected to help. Dogs are being trained to sniff out COVID-19, and experts say canines could “revolutionize” the screening for the contagious disease.
The Washington Post reports that eight Labrador Retrievers have started training in a University of Pennsylvania research project. Dogs trained through the Working Dog Center at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine have already proven their incredible ability to detect other diseases including malaria and different kinds of cancer. Researchers are optimistic that they’ll have similar results with COVID-19.
The new coronavirus detection dogs are currently in the first stages of training. They will learn to identify a specific odor for a reward, and the next step will be to train using urine and saliva samples. The samples will be taken from patients who have tested positive and negative at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center, told The Washington Post,
“We don’t know that this will be the odor of the virus, per se, or the response to the virus, or a combination. But the dogs don’t care what the odor is…What they learn is that there’s something different about this sample than there is about that sample.”
The final step in the training process will be seeing if the dogs can detect the virus when it’s inside the human body. The ability to quickly screen individuals who are at risk of potentially spreading the virus but not showing outward symptoms will be a huge step forward in the fight against the pandemic.
In addition to the dogs at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are also working on a similar project. Head of the school’s disease control department, James Logan, says dogs could be a “new diagnostic tool” in the worldwide response to the pandemic.
The goal, according to the Working Dog Center, is to one day place coronavirus detection dogs at busy locations including airports and hospitals. There’s also the chance that the information discovered by training the dogs could be used to invent an electronic sensor to detect the pathogen at an even faster rate.
The coronavirus detection dog training programs are still in their initial stages, but our four-legged friends will play a key role in recovery.
h/t: The Washington Post
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