Eight dogs from the Ajaccio fire and rescue services in Corsica are trained to detect the presence of coronavirus in the sweat of infected people. After several weeks, they may be able to identify in a crowd of people affected, a hope that nurtures several teams of researchers around the world.
« We already know that dogs have the ability to smell certain diseases. We also know that some viruses do have a specific smell. » It is on the basis of this observation that Dominique Grandjean, professor of the veterinary school of Maison-Alfort, in the Paris suburbs, interviewed there by 20 Minutes, launched a study to assess the capacity of dogs of the emergency services to identify people contaminated by Covid-19.
In the urine, stool, tears, saliva and sweat
Diabetes, malaria or certain cancers – lung, prostate – can be identified by certain dogs specially trained for this purpose. Experiments have been carried out on several occasions, with dogs which are trained by confronting the odor in question in the same way as for the search for people or explosives. The idea of Professor Grandjean, also head of the veterinary service of the Paris fire brigade, is to reproduce this principle for the coronavirus.
A contaminated person, he observes, shows traces of his presence « in the urine, stool, tears or even saliva and sweat », which are all vectors through which he evacuates the intruder. For this experience, the Maison-Alfort team and its partners decided to work on sweat, via samples taken from Covid hospital centers.
A game for broken animals to memorize smells
« The samples are placed in sterile jars then in a small hatch, near the dog’s favorite toy. Accompanied by his master, he comes to breathe this smell before recovering his toy », describes Dominique Grandjean at our colleagues. Toy, because he has to choose a game and because the success of the dog will be sanctioned by a reward.
The first eight dogs are trained, by the Ajaccio firefighters, at the rate of a hundred presentations, each day, of pads impregnated with the sweat of patients. One more smell to memorize for animals that have several dozen in memory, for their work, nothing insurmountable according to the national veterinary school.
Research in Great Britain and the United Kingdom
The French, who are also associated with a Lebanese university, are not the only ones to work on this hypothesis. In Great Britain, Medical Detection Dogs, an association, pilots with two research and teaching institutions research of the same type, imagining after six to eight weeks of training having operational dogs. And being able to use them « to detect Covid-19 in airports at the end of the epidemic to quickly identify people carrying the virus ».
In the United States, the University of Pennsylvania is conducting a test with eight labradors., Which mentions shopping centers, hospitals, in general all the places with a lot of crowds. According to English researchers at the University of Durham, they could « sort » up to 250 people per hour, people who could be directed towards adequate care and more « classic » control.
In France, the first results of Pr Grandjean’s study are announced for mid-May. According to what it will be, the training of the dogs of the various rescue services – firefighters, Civil security – will be envisaged and their deployment planned, which could make it possible to hinder a resumption of the pandemic. This is all the hope pursued …