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Scent dogs can detect coronavirus on human skin swabs - study
The dogs were able to accurately sniff-out coronavirus infection 92 per cent of the time.

The dogs correctly identified the samples 92 per cent of the time.

Dogs can be trained to detect coronavirus infection from human skin swabs, according to new research.

In a three-part study, researchers at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital found that trained scent dogs could accurately detect coronavirus in more than 90 per cent of samples. 

Scientists say their findings, published in the journal BMG Global Health, provide valuable information on the use of scent dogs in pandemic control. 

Anu Kantele, a professor of infectious diseases and chief physician at the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, commented: "Scent dogs can provide an invaluable tool for limiting viral spread during a pandemic, serving, for example, at air- and seaports.

"Such a reliable, cheap approach to rapidly screen a vast number of samples or to identify passing virus carriers from a large crowd is of value, particularly when the testing capacity with traditional approaches is insufficient".

In the study, the team first trained the dogs to distinguish between skin swab samples from coronavirus patients and volunteers who tested negative. The dogs were then transferred from the training facility to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.

Next, four of the trained dogs completed a validation test to prove their discriminatory ability. This experiment involved the team presenting the dogs with 420 samples over the course of a week.

The team found that the dogs could correctly identify the coronavirus samples 92 per cent of the time, only observing minor differences in accuracy. Virus variations were the most significant factor in the dogs incorrectly recognising the samples. 

Phase three saw the dogs enter a real-life situation, screening passengers and staff at the airport. In this experiment, the dogs correctly identified 98.7 per cent of the negative samples. 

The team explains that the low number of coronavirus samples helped them to assess the dogs’ performance with positive samples. They gave the dogs ‘work motivation samples’ at regular intervals to maintain their interest in the target odour.

'Work motivation samples' are samples pre-collected from PCR positive patients but not previously sniffed by dogs. From these, the dogs were able to accurately identify the virus 98.7 per cent of the time.

Anna Hielm-Björkman, a senior clinical instructor from the University of Helsinki, said: "Our research group will continue to study how scent dogs can best help our society. We hope that this newly published study will help to allocate funds for the development of this new ‘tool’.

"There are many other diseases where research could benefit from the excellent sense of smell that these dogs possess".

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Avian flu outbreak at RSPB Minsmere

News Story 1
 RSPB Minsmere nature reserve in Suffolk has confirmed an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza on its site. The coastal nature reserve has seen an increase in dead birds recently, and has said that it is 'extremely concerned' about the potential impacts on bird populations, with 2021 and 2022 seeing the largest ever outbreak in the UK.

In a statement, RSPB said: "We appreciate that it is distressing, for both visitors and staff, to see dead or dying birds at our site but we ask that if visitors see any dead or unwell birds, they do not touch or go near them and that they report it to us at our Visitor Centre during its opening hours, or by emailing us on minsmere@rspb.org.uk outside of these times."  

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Moredun Foundation Award opens for applications

The 2022-2023 Moredun Foundation Award (MFA) is now open for members, with up to £2,000 available for successful applicants.

The MFA honours the contribution that education, teamwork, life experience, and travel have made to the understanding of cattle health and welfare. Through its charitable endeavours, Moredun offers its members the opportunity to pursue projects that support personal development.

The prize is open to a wide range of project applications, including those that include producing educational tools, conducting a small research project, or studying farming methods in other nations. For more information and to apply, visit moredun.org.uk