It’s quite amazing that many of the recent ways to deal with the coronavirus have come from nature. In Brazil, for just one example, the indigenous Satere-Mawe Amazon tribe has resorted to ancestral recipes for syrup made from native plants, honey, and tree bark to treat Covid-19 symptoms. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that creative minds are resourcing whatever exists to manage Covid-19 around the world.
In the UK, specially trained “sniffer” dogs already have been trained to sniff out cancer, malaria, and Parkinson’s disease in people. They’ve also been trained to sniff for contraband such as weapons and drugs on passengers in airports. At the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, researchers decided to collaborate with Durham University and the charity known as Medical Detection Dogs to see if they could train sniffer dogs to pick up on body odor changes in people carrying Covid-19– travelers who aren’t aware they are carrying the deadly virus.
The UK government is serious about this research and has granted the research team more than $600,000 to see if their research can come up with results. The team is confident that they will succeed because they have already completed years of similar research on malaria sufferers. Their research has proved that people infected with malaria develop a body odor which is very distinctive and which dogs can detect very, very accurately. Lead project researcher, Professor James Logan, is also the department of disease control head at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His experience with malaria has shown that training dogs may very well lead to a successful way of finding Covid traveler-carriers very easily. Supported by the government grant, the research team is all in with their team of Labradors and Cocker Spaniels, training them to find Covid sufferers traveling through airports.
Currently, the only way to cope with travelers who may be innocently carrying Covid- with them as they travel, is to quarantine them when they arrive at their destinations. Around the world, travelers are instructed by the countries they arrive in to self-quarantine for two weeks. This means finding affordable lodging for the quarantine period. Many travel agencies are simply recommending that travelers not travel to destinations with strict restrictions for anyone arriving in those locations.
Thanks to “The Super Six” dogs who are in training for sniffing out Covid-19 disease, if the project is successful, dogs deployed at key entry points in UK airports may be able to detect travelers entering the UK who might be carrying Covid-19 unknowingly and then isolate them before they expose the UK community. The Super Six sniffer dog team could be effective enough to screen out 250 people each hour… and that’s per dog! That means the team could screen up to 1500 people total each hour they are at work.
In the US, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is taking a different tactic. The plan is to create a procedure for checking travelers’ temperatures as they pass through security at approximately 12 unidentified airports. This health screening measure was not finalized and not confirmed by the TSA as of Friday, May 15, 2020. It remains controversial because no US coronavirus cases were caught when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screened more then 30,000 passengers arriving as air passengers from China.
The Super Six sniffer dog team project researchers are hopeful that they will be able to deploy their trained dogs within six months. Their goal will be to detect Covid-19 carriers and isolate them as they enter the country at the airport. Surprisingly enough, it’s a very simple process to train these highly sensitive dogs to sniff for Covid-19.
Durham University Professor Steve Lindsay is a public health entomologist at the university. He described the process as quite easy. First, the researchers collect human odor samples. They collect samples from people who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 and they also collect samples from people who don’t have Covid-29 disease. They do this in two ways. The people providing the samples wear face masks and nylon socks for a few hours. The masks and socks are then collected and passed along to the sniffer dogs. This helps to train the dogs to get used to smelling the difference between the different scents.
The researchers are very hopeful that The Super Six initial team of sniffer dogs will be easily able to distinguish how Covid-19 smells in humans. If the researchers are right, Covid-19 will have its own kind of distinctive body odor and the dogs will be able to smell it among the myriad of scents they will smell in a typical airport environment. The researchers already know from years of collected information that diseases of the respiratory system do change body odors and they are almost positive that with such an overwhelming illness such as Covid-19 that this will be the same case. The only difficulty will be training the initial Super Six team, and then repeating the training process with more teams of dogs.
As Hong Kong’s busy Asian airport has added a trial operation of the CleanTech full-body disinfection booth where travelers can enter for a 40-second disinfection and sanitization to kill viruses and bacteria on the body, more and more are wondering what the future of travel will be. The airport is also using high-tech autonomous cleaning robots to disinfect passenger facilities and public areas around the clock. The robots may be efficient, but they’re not as comforting as man’s best friend…nice sniffer dogs.
High traffic McCarran Airport in Las Vegas has installed Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) vending machines for travelers who arrive at the airport without items including hand sanitizers, sanitizing wipes, gloves, reusable cloth masks, and KN95 disposable masks. The idea is that people aren’t used to the “new normal” habits necessary for staying safe while traveling. What this plan doesn’t mention is that unlike the sniffer dog team, all of these products may not help to isolate Covid-19 carriers from other travelers. That’s where the dog teams may be able to really shine.
As the world prepares for easing lockdown measures, the Covid-19 virus is still roaming its way around the Earth. The biggest fear of many governments is that a second peak of coronavirus cases will surge and cause even more misery. Dr. Claire Guest, Medical Detection Dogs co-founder and CEO thinks that the talented sniffer dogs have the potential to “save many lives” if this scenario presents itself-which is almost certainly likely. The natural ability of one of man’s best friends to rapidly screen people for Covid-19 may just also be one of nature’s best gifts to humanity.