Following successful trials in countries like Finland, Britain is now preparing to roll out its own COVID-19 sniffer dog programme.
The first group of dogs and their handlers, who are being trained by the charity Medical Detection Dogs, made their public debut this week as part of their preparations.
They spent the morning training at London’s busy Paddington railway station to get the teams ready to deal with large crowds of people and frenetic environments.
Royal welcome for the dogs
They were joined by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, who is the patron of the charity. Also present were various government figures, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
According to reports, the dogs can sniff out the virus on a person in less than a second, even if that individual is not showing any overt sign of being infected.
They are currently being trained to sniff out the virus in laboratory conditions at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where they are exposed to items of clothing worn by people suffering from the virus.
Real-life training location
But they also need to learn to do their detection work in real-life situations such as railway stations and airports.
Claire Guest, the co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said the animals could be a “game changer” for passengers travelling under Covid conditions and the day out at Paddington station was a “fantastic opportunity” to demonstrate how quickly the dogs can work.
“How could you not be impressed by them,” said the Duchess of Cornwall after watching the demonstration.
Around 85-90% reliability
Over the past 10 years, the work of Medical Detection Dogs has been featured in numerous peer-reviewed journals, demonstrating that the dogs’ accuracy in detecting the odour of disease is reliably between 85 and 90%.
Their research has also demonstrated that dogs can be trained to detect odour at dilutions of parts per trillion, which is the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.
Even though the current dogs are being frequently exposed to COVID-19, canines are not at risk from the virus.