Medical Detection Dogs, a charity based in Milton Keynes, has been investigating whether dogs can be trained to detect Covid-19.
There have been a number of challenges to overcome. The charity experienced delays in obtaining positive COVID-19 samples owing to the fall in infection rates over the summer. Then they had to get the green light from various ethical bodies and Public Health England. Their determination has clearly paid off with some encouraging progress at the Phase 1, Proof of Concept stage.
“The initial results from two dogs indicated that COVID-19 does have an odour that can be detected with high accuracy, and we have a further four dogs who are trained and validated and awaiting the arrival of more samples,” explains Emma Watson, the charity’s Trusts and Foundations Fundraising Assistant.
Phase Two will see the dogs’ transition to passive screening. This is when the dogs detect the odour on individuals. According to Watson, there has been excellent progress in the early training and preparation of a further nine Phase 2 dogs.
“If our research is successful, COVID-19 detection dogs could be deployed with trained handlers in public places, such as transport hubs,” she says.
Petplan Charitable Trust awarded the charity £5000 to cover its comprehensive flea and worming programming as well as covering neutering costs for 19 animals.
“We receive no government funding for our core charitable activity, and rely on the support we receive from trusts and foundations, corporate relationships and individual donations to carry out our important work. We are hugely grateful for the support that PetPlan Charitable Trust has provided,” says Watson.
Dogs are trained to detect diseases such as Type 1 diabetes
The Covid-19 initiative is the latest in the charity’s Medical Alert Assistance Dogs partnerships. The charity already supports people with Type 1 diabetes, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) and Addison’s disease, as well as severe allergies, episodes of sudden health deterioration, other endocrine disorders and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.
One dog is currently changing the lives of a family with two young children. Kia and Nial both suffer from a rare genetic condition which causes non- diabetic hypoglycaemia.
“Because Kia’s issues with blood glucose levels are non-symptomatic,” explains mum, Debbie, “we had no idea when an attack would or was taking place. We had to test her blood every five minutes which is not viable for any sort of living”.
Medical Alert Assistance Dog, Ally, is able to detect the two different scents from Kia and Nial as their blood glucose levels dip. When either child has a low blood glucose level she will sit near the child. A change in her behaviour will alert Debbie and let her know that she needs to take action.
“My children will always have their condition, but with Ally walking side by side with them both, they have never looked back,” says Debbie. “While we have her, we are going to make the most of living and enjoying every moment.”