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Bio-Detection Dogs Could Sniff Out COVID-19 Among Air Travelers

No one knows for sure what air travel will look like when the world emerges on the other side of this pandemic. Airports and airlines are already taking extreme precautions to protect the health and safety of travelers worldwide. Some are being forced to wear face masks, undergo full-body disinfection at the airport, and even submit to pre-flight blood testing. Now, it seems the next weapon in the fight against COVID-19 could involve highly trained dogs.

A team of London researchers is working to determine whether bio-detection dogs can sniff out the COVID-19 virus in humans. The group previously collaborated on a successful project to train canines to detect malaria in humans. With a high degree of accuracy, the dogs can hone in on specific odors given off by the virus, even in infected people showing no symptoms. They can also detect changes in body temperature that might indicate a fever. The team used similar methods to train other dogs to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, cancer, infections, and other medical conditions. 

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It sounds implausible, but consider that we already rely on dogs to detect things like drugs and explosives. At the heart of the team’s research is whether COVID-19 has a distinct smell or, more specifically, changes the way our bodies smell. According to the project’s Indiegogo page:

“Many diseases change our body odor. This has been shown many times in scientifically robust experiments. Recent research on flu viruses, and other respiratory diseases, has shown that these diseases also interact with the human immune system and change human body odor. There is a very good chance that COVID-19 has a distinctive body odor.”

According to Medical Detection Dogs co-founder, Dr. Claire Guest, the screening is non-invasive. “When sniffing people, the dogs will not need to make contact but will sniff the air around a person. The dogs will therefore not be in direct contact with the people screened to prevent the risk of spreading the virus.” If the long-term project is successful, the team is hopeful the dogs could rapidly screen up to 250 people per hour. 

“The dogs will not be in direct contact with the people screened to prevent the risk of spreading the virus.”

Dr. Guest is also quick to point out that the training process will not endanger the dogs. “The samples that the dogs will be trained on at the center will be deactivated (dead) virus and therefore of no risk to the dogs or handlers.”

The group launched an ambitious Indiegogo campaign to solicit donations for the research project. If the campaign is fully funded and the training is successful, the dog teams could be deployed on a global scale. This could be especially useful toward the end of the epidemic to help stop a re-emergence of the virus after it’s under control.

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Should You Travel After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine?
what the covid vaccine means for travel businessman using mobile phone at airport protective mask

With the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines now being administered around the U.S. and pictures of vaccine jabs and posing with vaccination cards spreading across social media, naturally, everyone’s thoughts are turning to when they can finally hop on a plane and take that much-needed vacation. But just because the vaccine rollout is underway doesn’t mean we can throw caution to the winds, as Dr. Fauci, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC), and numerous health and public safety officials have said. There are the new COVID variants to consider, not enough people may take the vaccine to start ensuring herd immunity (which could require anywhere from 70-90% of the population being vaccinated to be fully effective), and states may reopen too quickly, sparking outbreaks. Plus, with international travel, you might be heading to a country that may not have as many citizens vaccinated or even have vaccines yet, leaving the potential for COVID to be brought in or out. 

So what does that mean for your travel plans? There are still a lot of unknowns, but we’ve distilled all the information floating around out there down to some essential must-knows. 
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