Dogs Are Being Trained To Sniff Out Coronavirus
Some dogs are now being trained to sniff out people who have the coronavirus even before they show symptoms. We take a look at how this could work.
Researchers in the UK are conducting extensive trials to see whether trained sniffer dogs can detect the coronavirus in patients, even before they show any symptoms.
Previously, it's been found that people with illnesses like malaria, cancer, and Parkinson's give off a particular odor, which dogs are trained to detect. The research team behind the trial is hoping the same will be true with COVID-19.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are collaborating with Durham University and the charity Medical Detection Dogs to carry out the project. The team first announced their trial in late March, and have now received £500,000 ($610,000) worth of funding from the government.
Lord Bethell, the minister for innovation, said the UK government believed the dogs "might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy," the Guardian reported. If successful, the sniffer dogs could screen up to 250 people an hour and play a vital role in detecting the virus in key transportation hubs, including airports and train stations.
The patients would wear sterilized nylon socks to collect odour samples. The socks are essential in the process because nylon "is a very good matrix to collect odor" and has proven to be an easy and effective way to obtain a person's scent, explained Professor James Logan, the project's lead researcher and head of the department of disease control at LSHTM.
Once the samples are taken, half will be sent to a lab where scientists will try to determine what chemicals the odor is composed of — in other words, finding out what COVID-19 smells like. The other samples will go to the charity based in Milton Keynes — just outside of London — where six specialist dogs dubbed "The Super Six" will be trained to sniff them out.
The intense dog training will last between 8 to 10 weeks. It includes putting the samples on metal stands along with other scents from people not infected with COVID-19. When the dog can point out the coronavirus scent, it gets a treat.
The team hopes the dogs will be able to detect the coronavirus before people show symptoms of it.
The team expects the final results to come in between August and September. If these are promising, they will move into the next phase of the project, which involves looking at how it can work on a larger scale. The researchers hope that the first set of dogs could be deployed to key transportation hubs in the UK, including airports and train stations within the next six months. Each dog could potentially screen up to 250 people per hour.
Source: Business Insider.
Long haul Covid, the brain and digital therapies
It is estimated that around 10% of people who get Covid-19 develop long haul Covid, a debilitating condition that can last many months and cause breathlessness, exhaustion and pain.
Research is underway to find out who is more likely to get it and how to treat it. Here neuroplasticity expert and owner of Harley Street Solutions in London Ashok Gupta tells us how the condition affects the brain.
What is long Covid exactly?
Long Covid is when patients who have experienced Covid-19 go on to have continuing symptoms for weeks and months afterwards. These symptoms can include breathlessness, exhaustion, brain fog, gastric issues, pain, and post-exertional malaise. It is estimated that around 10% of Covid-19 infections may result in developing long haul symptoms, and in the USA, this may be affecting over 3 million people.
How does it affect the brain?
Here at our clinic, we hypothesise that it is due to a malfunction in the unconscious brain, creating a conditioned response that keeps the body in a hyper-aroused state of defensiveness. At the core of this hypothesis is the idea that we are here because our nervous system and immune system have evolved to survive. We are survival machines!
When we encounter something such as Covid-19, the brain perceives it as life threatening, and rightly so. And in the era of the pandemic, with more stress, anxiety and social isolation, our immunity may be compromised, and therefore it may take longer for the immune system to fight off the virus and recover.
If the brain makes the decision that this is potentially life threatening and we get to the stage where we’re overcoming the virus, a legacy is left in the brain; it keeps over-responding to anything that reminds us of the virus. Even if we’ve fought off the virus, the brain will react in a precautionary way to stimuli reminiscent of the virus.
The brain may get stuck in that overprotective response, and keeps stimulating our nervous system and our immune system, just in case the virus may still be present.
What symptoms does this cause?
These signals cause a cascade of symptoms including breathlessness, extreme fatigue, brain fog, loss of taste or smell, headaches, and many others. And these are caused by our own immunes system.
In the case of long-haul Covid, symptoms in the body get detected by a hypersensitive brain which thinks we’re still in danger. The brain then chronically stimulates the immune and nervous systems, and then we have a continuation of a chronic set of symptoms.
This isn’t unique to long-haul Covid. Many patients develop chronic fatigue syndrome, sometimes known as “ME”, for example, after the flu, a stomach bug, or respiratory illness. Covid-19 may be a severe trigger of a form of chronic fatigue syndrome or ME.
How does long-haul Covid affect mental health?
Anxiety is a very common symptom in long haulers. It can be frightening to wonder about what may be happening in your body, and what the prognosis is going to be for one’s long term health. Reaching out for support for mental health is crucial for long-haulers.
How does neuroplasticity treatment work for long-haul COVID patients?
We have been working with patients for two decades with a brain retraining programme using neuroplasticity or “limbic retraining.”
We believe that through neural rewiring, the brain can be “persuaded” that we are no longer in danger and to come back to homeostasis. But to be very clear, we are not saying it is psychological in any way, but we believe there are novel ways of accessing the unconscious brain.
We recently worked successfully with a 56-year-old male with long-haul Covid, who prior to contracting Covid-19 in March of 2020 was running half-marathons and cycling, but afterwards he struggled to get off the sofa for months. Within 3 months he’s now back to 100% and running half marathons again.
At our clinic, we train the patient to be able to recognise those subtle unconscious danger signals on the periphery of consciousness. This, coupled with supportive techniques and the natural hallmarks of good health such as sleep and diet help prepare the patient to respond to perceived threats that might trigger the response.
The natural state of our brain is to default to protection. The brain prioritises survival and passing on our genes to the next generation, over any other impulse. It cares more about that than you feeling healthy and well. Protective responses are evolutionary, and are the right thing for the brain to do – it’s survival.
What digital therapies or apps are proving effective at treating long-haul Covid?
It seems that long haul patients are availing themselves of many online therapies and services, including meditation apps and wellness websites. We have an online neuroplasticity “brain retraining” video course called the “Gupta Program” which hosts 15 interactive videos and many audio exercises. This is proving very popular with long haul patients, and we are currently conducting a trial to test the effectiveness of this therapy.
What is the danger of leaving long-haul Covid untreated?
The longer it goes untreated, we hypothesise that it may become more entrenched in the brain, and become chronic in the longer term. Therefore we advise all patients to get help and advice as soon as possible.