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In Corsica, dogs trained to detect a smell from the Covid-19 – France – Insurance for dogs

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An experiment is currently being carried out in Corsica, in order to train rescue dogs to detect a possible odor of the coronavirus.

Inti, Nash, Onda and five other dogs will become formidable agents in the fight against the Covid-19? Since Friday, these animals have been trained in Ajaccio to detect a possible smell of the virus, as part of a test conducted by veterinarians and firefighters.

Called Nosais, this research developed by Professor Dominique Grandjean, of the national veterinary school of Alfort, in the Paris region, plans to experiment with cynotechnical skills in order to identify specific odors that could be emitted by patients who are positive for the coronavirus.

« If we can validate this experiment, the goal is to provide a complementary solution to the tests that already exist » to screen for the disease, explains Aymeric Bénard, chief veterinarian and cynotechnical advisor of the Fire and Rescue Service of Corsica- du-Sud (SIS 2A), which takes part in the project.

« The hospital needs numerous and reliable screening facilities. Today, the PCR test has a reliability of 70%. We therefore need to cross this test with other types of screening, « said the director of Ajaccio hospital, Jean-Luc Pesce, stressing the interest of this experiment for his establishment.

Corsica has been one of the regions most affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

Eight rescue dogs

With the support of the prefecture of Corse-du-Sud, the Regional Health Agency of Corsica, and Ajaccian hospitals of La Misericorde and Eugenie, six shepherds from Mechelen and a dog of the Cursinu breed from the Corse-du-Sud firefighters are therefore tested on the site of a future veterinary clinic.

« These dogs are usually used to search for missing or buried people under a collapse, » says Aymeric Bénard.

A Malinois shepherd of the gendarmerie, « used within the framework of research of specific products » and therefore already educated in « odorology », joined the team, he specifies.

Ajaccian hospitals will provide around 50 compresses placed for a few minutes in the armpits of patients who test positive for the virus.

« The advantage is that at the sweat level there is no viral expression today which has been noted and therefore a priori no risk of contamination, which means that the dog will be able to intervene in a secure manner ”, specifies the SIS veterinarian.

Inserted in sterile jars, these compresses will be placed in a small hatch, near the dog’s favorite toy. Next to his master, the animal will then breathe this smell before retrieving his toy, and will therefore associate it with play.

Then, the jar will be installed in one of the supports in the detection room. The goal for the dog will then be to « mark » by the sitting or lying position the support containing the positive compress, before being rewarded with his toy. A process that can be repeated fifty times a day for the next few weeks.

In the second phase, the dogs will be tested.

Detectors of other diseases

At the same time, the University of Corte (Haute-Corse), associated with the project, will work on the scientific validation of the protocol to find out, at the cynotechnical level, if dogs can detect the smell of Covid-19.

« In addition, we want to check whether, using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry laboratory techniques, we can identify one or more compounds that are found only on Covid positives, » reveals Aymeric Bénard.

The dog is already used for the detection of several chronic diseases, certain cancers, malaria, or even Parkinson’s disease.

« Lately, the Americans have also used the dog in herds of cattle for the detection of a viral disease and this has given very good results, » said Aymeric Bénard.

The first results of this Nosais trial will be known in mid-May. After Corsica, other territories should join the experiment in the coming weeks, such as the fire and rescue service of Seine-et-Marne or the battalion of marine firefighters in Marseille.

The same Nosais trial is launched in Lebanon under the aegis of the Franco-Lebanese University and similar projects exist in Germany, Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, according to the initiators of the experiment .