Sniffer dogs could be used to detect people infected with coronavirus

Sniffer dogs could be used to detect people infected with coronavirus
© Belga

Using sniffer dogs to detect people who are infected with the coronavirus in crowds could be possible in future, but the research is still preliminary at the moment.

"Preliminary studies show that dogs are able to distinguish between samples from infected patients and non-infected patients," said virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht during a press conference on Monday. "They do not smell the virus, but they smell the body's response to the virus."

"From the past, we also know that dogs are able to smell other diseases in humans, such as tuberculosis or certain cancers," Van Gucht said.

"Theoretically, dogs might be used to pick out infected people in places in crowds, such as airports or other busy places, but this is still a theoretical concept," Van Gucht said.

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Additionally, dogs can also be infected with the virus. "They are not as susceptible to the virus as cats, but in principle it is possible," Van Gucht said. "So, we have to make sure that such a dog does not get infected itself, and then unintentionally carry it around while tracking."

The studies are preliminary, and have not yet been put into practice, according to Van Gucht.

Last week, professor Chris Callewaert of the university of Ghent, a specialist in microbial ecology, asked people - both infected and healthy ones - to send samples of their sweat to his lab.

“If we can determine how the smell of sweat is structured by infected people, dogs can pick up that smell," Callewaert said.

He aims to train dogs to detect the particular odour that the virus which causes Covid-19 gives to the sweat of those who are infected.

Ultimately, the dogs can then be deployed at events where large groups of people are gathered – if and when those are once again allowed.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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