SNIFFER dogs are to be trained by scientists to try and detect Covid-19 in humans before symptoms develop.

The UK Government has given scientists £500,000 to start training six 'bio detection' dogs currently used to identify cancers, malaria and Parkinson's

It is hoped that if successful, the animals will provide a non-invasive way to tell if someone has coronavirus or not before they are tested and provide an early warning sign for infection.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are to start the first phase of the trial alongside charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham university.

The first phase will involve NHS staff collecting odour samples from people infected with coronavirus, as well as those clear of the disease.

Three Cocker Spaniels named Jasper, Asher and Norman, and three Labradors named Digby, Storm and Star will then be trained to detect the virus from the samples.

Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: “Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy.

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

Medical Detection Dogs and the universities put forward a proposal for the clinical trial to the government, which has been accepted following strong evidence that the dogs can detect other diseases in humans with a high level of accuracy.

Westminster health officials say the dogs will only be deployed if backed by strong scientific evidence, and the training is part of the government’s approach to explore all possible options to tackle coronavirus.

If they pass phase one, they would then be trialled in live situations with patients. If successful the team would then start training a whole fleet of the covid detection animals.

More than ten years of research gathered by Medical Detection Dogs has shown that the dogs, which could each screen up to 250 people per hour, can be trained to detect the odour of disease at the equivalent dilution of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.

Professor James Logan, lead researcher for the work and Head of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“Our previous work has shown that malaria has a distinctive odour, and with Medical Detection Dogs, we successfully trained dogs to accurately detect malaria. This, combined with the knowledge that respiratory disease can change body odour, makes us hopeful that the dogs can also detect COVID-19.

"We’re excited to do this trial, and confirm whether these bio detection dogs can be used to screen for COVID-19.

“If successful, this approach could revolutionise how we detect the virus, with the potential to screen high numbers of people.”

Dr Claire Guest, Co-Founder and CEO of Medical Detection Dogs said she was confident that the dogs could be trained to find covid-19, and said they had already proven highly effective at detecting other diseases.

She said: “We are delighted that the government has given us the opportunity to demonstrate that dogs can play a role in the fight against COVID-19. They have the potential to help by quickly screening people, which could be vital in the future

“We have already demonstrated our expertise in canine disease detection by successfully training dogs to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and malaria, and we apply that same science to train life-saving Medical Alert Assistance Dogs to detect odour changes in individuals caused by their health condition.

“We are sure our dogs will be able to find the odour 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.”