Kyp is one of 6 dogs in a research project in England – 3 other Labradors, a Cocker Spaniel and a Golden Retriever called Millie. They’ve spent months sniffing thousands of dirty socks - some from people with COVID, some from people who haven’t got the bug. Eeeugh!
It’s not our idea of fun, but Kyp, Millie and their nosey chums have been loving it. And, most importantly, they were able quickly to spot who had COVID and who didn’t more than 9 times out of 10. That’s almost as good as laboratory tests which take hours.
Another project in France came up with similar successes from dogs there. (In fact, some of the French dogs, which sniffed cloth from people’s armpits, even got close to 100% accuracy.) Tests have been run in other countries, too, and dogs have already been sniffing for COVID at airports in Finland and Dubai.
A whiff in time
Large numbers of COVID sniffer dogs could be very useful very soon, when millions of us start travelling again after lockdown and we still need to keep a watch out for COVID without making everyone take loads of tests that take many hours.
For example, if a plane load of tourists arrives at an airport, dogs like Kyp and Millie can have a nose around among them as they’re coming off. In a few minutes they’d be able to spot if anyone might need to be tested fully for COVID.
You’ve seen dogs sniffing around when they’re out for walkies. It’s something they do naturally because dogs have a super-power of smell. They have 50 times more smell sensors than we do. Most humans get most of our information about the world through our eyes. But it’s their noses that let dogs know what’s going on around them.
You may already have seen police at railway stations or airports using “sniffer dogs”. What smells are they looking for? Mostly it’s dangerous and illegal things like guns, bombs, or drugs. But they could soon be sniffing for COVID.
If dogs smell the virus on someone’s skin, even if the person isn’t sick, they could be given treatment and isolated to make sure they don’t pass on the bug to others.
“These amazing dogs”
James Logan, a professor at London University who ran the test project in England, said the results from “these amazing dogs” were much better than he expected.
Jean-Marc Tréluyer, a professor in Paris who conducted the French test, said the “excellent” results could allow fast “mass testing” of crowds at airports, stations, sports stadiums and music events.
Doctor Claire Guest is a scientist who runs Medical Detection Dogs, the charity that helped train Kyp and his friends. She has already taught lots of dogs – including “rescue dogs” that have been abandoned - to help spot other diseases and so save many lives. These include detecting cancer and malaria before people feel ill.
Humans’ best friends
All these promising results have yet to be confirmed. And it can take months to train a sniffer dog. However, there are thousands of dogs which are already trained to smell things like drugs, and they might quite quickly be taught to add COVID to the “library” of scents they store in their brains and can recognise.
Kyp and his pals really could be humans’ best friends as we get on top of COVID.
We didn’t hear what Kyp thinks of it all. Doctor Claire says he’s a “fast learner” with a great “zest for life”. Oh, and he loves “singing along to the doorbell”.
So how do we send a big WoW! thank you to Kyp? All together now, “Ding dong!”