How airport sniffer dogs could detect Covid-19

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    Sniffer dogs could be deployed to airports as a quicker and more non-invasive way to detect Covid-19 carriers traveling between borders, with first trial results proving a success. Global trials, including the involvement of the University of Adelaide and Australian Border Force’s National Detector Dog Program Facility in Victoria, had found dogs could detect Covid-19 even when patients were asymptomatic or in incubation period.

    The reliability of the dog’s nose matched current technology in identifying infected people and could see them deployed not just at airports but also to screen staff in hospitals or travelers in hotel quarantine. Preliminary control trials were carried out last year involving imprinting detector dogs using positive sweat samples collected from patients in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

    Another trial was conducted at Sydney International Airport terminal over three weeks in March. “The controlled trials were completed on 28 February 2021, with results proving that dogs can accurately discriminate between sweat samples taken from persons who have tested positive and negative to Covid-19,” an ABF spokesman said on Tuesday.

    The spokesman said the detector dogs could potentially provide efficient and reliable sniffs to “complement” other screening methods. He added data from the March trial was still being analyzed with the research done in conjunction with the Alfort National Veterinary School in France and collaboration with the UAE Ministry of the Interior. According to Alfort, canine sniffing achieved a 97 percent success rate.

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    “Some countries have already deployed dogs, in particular the United Arab Emirates with whom we have been working since March 2020, at airports, borders, and via mobile canine screening units.” On average, it takes up to eight weeks to train a dog and pass validation tests. This week, a similar study in the UK reported the distinct smell of Covid-19 had been detected by specifically trained dogs with 94 percent accuracy.

    They were also able to identify infections caused by the coronavirus strain that was dominant in the UK last summer and the UK (Kent) version of the virus, which appeared later in the year. “They could detect the new variant without any additional training, so this gives us real hope and really suggests that dogs can detect different variants of Covid,” head of the department of disease control at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Professor James Logan said.

    Chief scientific officer at UK Medical Detection Dogs, Dr. Claire Guest, said: “These fantastic results are further evidence that dogs are one of the most reliable biosensors for detecting the odor of human disease. Our robust study shows the huge potential for dogs to help in the fight against Covid-19.”

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