Researchers have discovered that animals with a good sense of smell, like dogs and mice, can be trained to detect animals infected with bird flu. Just by sniffing their excrement. Could this be a new early-warning detection system for pandemics?
The work is being undertaken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who have trained mice to zero in on the feces of ducks infected with avian flu. The mice were put in a maze with a sample from an H5N1 infected fowl, and a healthy specimen, and were rewarded for correctly locating the sick duck's spoor.
The researchers believe that not only can mice be trained this way, but dogs too, and potentially for other diseases, and not just in poop. Dr. Bruce A. Kimball who presented the results said:
"In fact, we envision two broad, real-world applications of our findings. First, we anticipate use of trained disease-detector dogs to screen feces, soil, or other environmental samples to provide us with an early warning about the emergence and spread of flu viruses. Second, we can identify the specific odor molecules that mice are sensing and develop laboratory instruments and in-the-field detectors to detect them."
A trained sniffer-dog would certainly be easier to get out to remote locations in order to check out animals for infections, quicker than lab tests, and probably easier to look after than expensive equipment.
And soon, you'll be seeing dogs trained to sniff butts in airports - to keep the infected from getting on planes with their viral loads.