A team of detector dogs will be deployed at Lyell McEwin Hospital in Adelaide’s northern suburbs to screen for COVID-19 to help keep patients safe.
The pilot study will see the dogs stationed at the Emergency Department where they will rely on their keen sense of smell to identify COVID positive visitors as they enter the hospital.
It is the first project worldwide where detector dogs have been deployed in a hospital setting.
The four Labradors trained in the program will be stationed at Lyell McEwin Hospital for six weeks, with two dogs on site at a time and each dog having the capacity to inspect up to 100 people an hour.
During triage at the Emergency Department, patients and visitors will be offered the opportunity to be screened by dogs as part of the existing COVID-19 testing process.
The study is a collaboration between SA Pathology, the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, with funding from The Hospital Research Foundation Group and the University of Adelaide.
Project lead Dr Anne-Lise Chaber from the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, said the pilot study was an exciting development and has the potential to be implemented in a range of other settings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We saw that dogs were a reliable screening tool in our airport trial last year, however relying on a sweat sample was too time consuming,” Dr Chaber said.
“Specially trained dogs are able to sniff out and identify positive COVID-19 cases faster and earlier than PCR and more reliably than rapid antigen tests. This study will tell us if the sniffer dogs are as reliable at testing people directly in a hospital setting.”
“Dogs have a remarkable ability to hone in on COVID-19, and their strike rate for sniffing out the virus is more than 97 per cent, even in symptom-free cases in controlled settings.”
The Hospital Research Foundation Group CEO, Paul Flynn, said the charity was proud to fund this innovative trial.
“Having COVID-19 detection dogs at the hospital frontline will also provide the community with additional comfort when attending a busy health care setting,” he said.
“The evidence so far has shown promising results, particularly in detecting positive cases during the pivotal incubation phase and early infection stage of the virus before symptoms appear.”