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Meet the elite sniffer dogs trained to hunt Covid ‘super-spreaders’ by smelling patients’ SOCKS

THIS good boy could soon be on the front-line fighting the coronavirus pandemic. 

Rescue pup Asher will form part of a crack team of six detection pooches who will be the first to sniff out the deadly disease.

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The five-year-old cocker spaniel has completed his basic training and within six weeks could be taught to save lives by diagnosing patients by corona’s smell alone. 

Asher’s owner Dr Claire Guest founded charity Medical Detection Dogs which has trained thousands of dogs to pick up the scent of cancer, Parkinson’s and even malaria. 

After police dogs in the UAE correctly identified the coronavirus in 92 per cent of cases, Claire is now calling for samples of breath and body odour by wearing a mask for three hours, and nylon socks and a T-shirt for twelve hours.

The charity is aiming to recruit volunteers from the North West, where cases have spiked recently, to gather around 325 positive and 675 negative samples for the pups’ training.

“At the moment, we’ve got controls (odors from people who haven’t got Covid-19), but what we really need now is people who have actually got the virus to wear the socks and the masks in order that the dogs can be trained,” Claire tells The Sun.

“They’re all showing promise – but Asher’s the real star.”

From birth, dogs are given intensive training covering basic puppy training, how to properly find and indicate a scent, and finally they finesse their skills over six weeks by learning to recognise an illness’s particular odour. 

Once trained, a team of just six dogs will be able to screen 4,500 people a day for Covid-19.

Successful sniffer dogs are so sensitive to smell that they can be trained to detect diseases from a huge distance – the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Unlike other dogs who start specific scent training at 18 months, Asher began his training late after spending his early years in and out of rescue centres. 

Claire, 56, rehomed the pooch three years ago and has been training him so he can join a team of five labradors, cocker spaniels and one poodle-labrador cross to embark on coronavirus detection training.

She says: “He absolutely loves to work. He’s looking forward to getting going. 

“I believe he will be particularly good at this.”

Not-for-profit Medical Detection Dogs is working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University on the trial, which could lead to 250 arrivals in the UK being screened at airports every hour if it gets positive results.

The charity and the London School worked together two years ago to train dogs to recognise the smell of malaria from socks which had been worn by the patients in Gambia. 

The results showed the hounds were able to diagnose 70 per cent of malaria samples accurately.

Medical Detection Dogs is also working on two NHS-approved clinical trials – looking at how dogs can sniff out prostate cancer with Milton Keynes University Hospital and another looking at colorectal cancer with Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Claire is confident her canine team has what it takes to smell Covid-19 in humans based on research on other cold and flu viruses.

Scientists would first work on isolating the scent before using a decontaminated sample for dogs to learn to recognise. 

Claire says: “We haven’t found any disease that hasn’t got its own unique odour. 

“Dogs are very, very good at smelling different bacterias so it’s extremely likely that there would also be a smell coronavirus. 

“If the odour is reasonable we would get these dogs ready in six weeks. Normally it would take eight to ten weeks.

“That would be intensive because the whole point about Covid is that we need dogs trained as soon as possible. 

“The team is ready, the dogs are ready and everyone wants to make a difference.” 

The charity feels the dogs will be best placed to prevent a resurgence of the virus as lockdown restrictions are lifted.

The dogs’ sensitive snouts mean they will be able to stop super-spreaders who don’t experience symptoms from infecting the public once again.

“That’s why we need to get cracking quickly – we need to get these dogs trained and ready,” Claire says.

“We are in discussions with the Government and obviously healthcare advisors. 

“Because to start with there won’t be many dogs, we’ll be deploying them where they will be making the most difference.

“Public places, probably ports of entry, screening people coming off flights for example to see if they are bringing the virus back into the country.”

If the trial proves a success, Claire and her team would hope to share their knowledge with agencies who train detection dogs all over the country.

The super sniffer dogs can’t be deployed until the trial has been completed, and that’s entirely dependent on when enough samples have been received.

“We’ve already started recruiting so we’ve already got some samples,” says Prof James Logan, lead researcher on the study and Head of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“But because the Covid-19 numbers have come down in the UK, we’re finding it difficult to get enough samples to do all the training.”

The scientists are asking anyone who has either tested positive in the last 24 hours or who has symptoms and is going to get a test done to get in touch. 

“We really are desperate for these samples,” Prof Logan adds.

“We need them as quickly as possible, which is why we’re doing this callout to the public.

“If this is successful and we can get lots of people to donate within the next couple of weeks, we’ll be on track to do that.”

*To volunteer for the study, visit:

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