Will there be Covid-19 sniffer dogs like there are dogs trained to detect “narcotics”, banknotes and explosives? Or others who, today, with their unrivaled flair, are able to flush out breast, prostate, colon cancer and help medicine and the sick?
In the race to stem the pandemic, the issue is of interest to scientists. In the United Kingdom, in particular, where the flagship British research team of Medical Detection Dogs, has been training dogs for ten days to detect the coronavirus, to be able to identify carriers in stations, for example. In France, Dominique Grandjean, 63, professor at the National Veterinary School of Alfort (Val-de-Marne) and head of the veterinary service of the Paris Fire Brigade (BSPP), tries to take up the challenge.
This veterinarian, surrounded by a team of scientists, veterinarians, doctors, gendarmes, firefighters, dog handlers, has been performing since Thursday, April 30, a test on seven “working dogs” who would sniff and screen for the disease. Five of these dogs belong to the Seine-et-Marne fire brigade (SDIS 77), two others to the Corsican gendarmerie. Two other dogs from the Paris Fire Brigade (BSPP) were to participate in the experiment, before the BSPP changed its mind Thursday evening, to the dismay of Dominique Grandjean.
“Viral diseases have a smell”
Originally, these super breed dogs – malinois, sprinter, spaniel and labrador – were trained in olfactory screening. “They are trained in the search for people in large spaces, but also in the rubble, as during the collapse of the Rosny-sous-Bois building” in 2014, details the commander Alexandre Jouassard of SDIS 77.
Others of these canines have specialized in the search for explosives. And can operate on the platforms of the Paris airports of Roissy and Orly. Their job is to recognize the smell of the powder, with the instruction to “mark” if there is an odor, that is to say, to bark, sit or lie down.
“From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought of these dogs, enthuses Dominique Grandjean. Viral diseases have a smell. These dogs, used to managing a library of smells, have been introduced to around 40 of them. Adding that of the Covid-19 should be in their strings! “
The dog works on samples of sweat, obtained with compresses placed under the armpits of new patients suffering from the coronavirus. Warning ! The latter must not have already received treatment so that other odors, for example drugs, do not interfere.
“If it doesn’t work, we will have tried”
“Obviously, recognizes the veterinarian, we are not 100% sure of the result.” There is no guarantee that Covid-19 will generate specific molecules in sweat. And if other experiments are in progress, they have not given rise to authoritative publications. “We are in the experimental field”.
What confirms Alexandre Jouassard. “No panic! It is necessary to do a battery of tests to see if there is a real added value in using dogs in this screening. But the first tests of Thursday’s tests are encouraging. If it works, so much the better, if it doesn’t work, we will have tried! ” Dominique Grandjean insists: “This experience costs nothing. The results will be quick. It will only take us one week to train the dog and another week for validation. ”
VIDEO. Dogs trained to screen for Covid-19
During his training, the “sniffer” must feel “samples, some from Covid-19 patients, others from non-patients, others will be placebos”. “When the dog stops on the patient’s samples, it is rewarded with a toy”. The next time, the dog, to whom future samples will be presented, will be willing to find this smell and make a difference. If the experience is conclusive, it could convince the BSPP of Paris to join it, and seduce other interlocutors.
In airports, stations, supermarkets …
France has a brigade of over 3000 utility dogs, among the 24 of the BSPP, based in the kennel of Saint-Denis (Seine-Saint-Denis), those of the police, gendarmes, customs and private companies…
The “sniffers” could land “in airports, on boat descents, in stations and even in the queues of supermarkets, with, of course, the agreement of people,” explains Dominique Grandjean. “With these dogs, if it works, we could save time.”