THEY are already 'man's best friend' – and soon they could be playing a vital role in keeping us all safe.

Dogs are being trained to sniff out coronavirus from humans in a potentially game-changing trial, and East Cheshire NHS Trust is playing a key part.

Staff at the trust – which runs hospitals in Macclesfield, Knutsford and Congleton – are providing samples of breath and body odour to be used as part of the trial.

If successful, trained dogs could be deployed to key points of entry in the UK, with the potential to screen up to 250 people an hour for Covid-19.

Dr John Hunter, medical director at East Cheshire NHS Trust, said: “We’re delighted that we’ve been given the opportunity to help determine whether bio detection dogs can play a role in the fight against Covid-19.

"Accuracy is essential so this trial will tell us whether these dogs can reliably detect the virus and help us prevent its spread."

The trial is being led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in collaboration with the charity Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University.

It will determine whether dogs could be used as a new rapid, non-invasive diagnostic tool for the virus.

Researchers required body odour samples before the dogs could be put through their paces, and five members of staff at East Cheshire NHS Trust are wearing a mask for three hours, and nylon socks and a t-shirt for 12 hours in order to do this.

The staff will also be tested for Covid-19, and researchers hope to have 1,000 samples for the test from employees at 11 NHS trusts and their families, with the hope of getting 325 positive and 675 negative samples.

Project lead Professor James Logan, head of the department of disease control at LSHTM, said: “A huge thank you to NHS staff and their families who are supporting this vital research.

"If successful, this trial could revolutionise how we diagnose the virus, leading to the rapid screening of high numbers of people, even if asymptomatic, helping return our lives back to some sort of normality.”

Once the samples have been collected, they are taken to LSHTM, where they are being processed and analysed to identify compounds in odour that signify when someone is infected with Covid-19.

They are then sent to Medical Detection Dogs' training centre in Milton Keynes where the dogs will undergo training with the samples.

Having previously shown that dogs can sniff out malaria in people, researchers are dedicated to making sure the trial is thorough and safe for all involved, with the dogs undergoing intensive pre-training.

Claire Guest, chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “Samples provided by NHS staff and their families will be key to the success of this trial and we’re very grateful to everyone who is supporting the project in this way.

“Our dogs have already successfully detected different types of cancer, Parkinson’s and malaria among other diseases which affect millions of people around the world.

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"We are very proud that a dog’s nose could be part of a solution to find a fast, non-invasive way of diagnosing Covid-19 and make a tangible difference to any future pandemics.

"We look forward to sharing the news that the dogs can find the odour of the virus and the accuracy levels they achieve."