Covid sniffer dogs could work summer events in France

Trained sniffer dogs can be educated to react to the smell of Covid within two or three days using a sample manufactured in a laboratory

25 May 2021
By Brian McCulloch

Sniffer dogs to detect Covid-19 are being trained to be used in France this summer, 18 months after French researchers showed that they were reliable.

Professor Dominique Grandjean of the Ecole Vétérinaire d’Alfort-EnvA is a world expert on the use of sniffer dogs to detect illnesses, and realised that trained sniffer dogs could be used to detect if people had the disease.

“I am very happy that the government has asked us to go ahead,” he told Connexion.

Read more: Covid sniffer dog tests start on public in France

“We have had 18 months of frustration after first showing that dogs could be used to detect Covid, and now have lots of work to ensure that there are enough trained dogs.”

He perfected a method where cotton pads, put under the armpits for a short while so they had traces of sweat, could then be tested by dogs.

Dogs are now being used to detect Covid in 41 countries, but the French Ministry of Health refused to give its approval until full scientific tests and reviews had been carried out, something which normally takes years.

But government attitudes changed after a test by independent organisations resulted in 97% of the positive cases being detected, and only 6% of false negatives.

The results are as good as the PCR tests involving swabs from deep in the nostrils which take several hours to give results.

Events with more that 1,000 people, due to be authorised in the summer if the number of Covid cases continues to fall, are likely to be the first in France to have Covid detector dogs used.

Read more: Sniffer dogs in France to detect Covid-19 in care homes

Prof Grandjean used the pad under the arm method because it could be used to test by dogs away from people – who may be afraid of dogs, for example.

But now he said other methods, such as testing masks, might also be allowed, although he said it will be difficult to allow dogs to test by walking them along a queue, due to some people's fear of the animals.

A trained sniffer dog can be educated to react to the smell of Covid within two or three days using a sample which can be manufactured in a laboratory and which carries no risk of transmitting the disease.

Training a dog from scratch to be an efficient sniffer dog, though, takes between three and four months.

Most trained sniffer dogs in France are used by customs and police to detect drugs, explosives and weapons, and by search and rescue teams to search for buried accident victims, including those buried under avalanches, and also dead bodies.

Professor Grandjean’s team is also working on a long-term project to get approval for sniffer dogs to be used to detect other illnesses, including some forms of cancer.

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