Chile trains police dogs to detect Covid-19 patients

By Alberto Peña

Santiago de Chile, Jul 15 (efe-epa).- Chile has launched an initiative to train police dogs to detect Covid-19 patients.

Canines are used around the world to sniff out drugs, money, explosives and diseases including certain cancers, malaria and Parkinson’s.

France was the first country to successfully train hounds to identify people with the new coronavirus and similar schemes are being developed in the United Kingdom, Finland and the United Arab Emirates.

The concept has also crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Chile, which has reported 320,000 cases and 7,069 deaths, where four police dogs are being trained.

Although SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease, has no specific smell the human body’s immune response to the virus generates components in sweat.

Dogs, which have a sense of smell 50 times better than a person’s, can recognise these chemicals.

Julio Santelices, head of the Chilean police school of specialities, told Efe that dogs have already proved their effectiveness in sniffing out other substances that do have a specific odor in themselves.

“These dogs are going to be able to detect the disease early. They are not going to replace the PCR (test) but they are a fantastic tool that allows us to detect this type of disease early,” he added.

The project aims to create the first trained canine brigade that can detect people with the early stages of Covid-19 in public spaces, particularly asymptomatic patients.

It is hoped that the dogs, which are currently in the first phase of training, could be working on the streets by the end of August.

Santelices added: “In one hour a dog can sniff 250 people. If we go with four dogs to a bus terminal or a stadium, they can sniff 1,000 people in an hour.

“The effectiveness is very important and we have established that it is greater than 95 percent.”

The 300 million nerve endings in a dog’s snout make them a perfect weapon to detect coronavirus patients.

Chilean police have chosen Labradors and Golden Retrievers for the program as these breeds are the best sniffer dogs.

Human officers will coordinate with health authorities and medical services to ensure that anyone identified by the hounds is tested and put into isolation or taken to hospital for treatment.

The project is being developed in conjunction with the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

Fernando Mardones, professor of veterinary epidemiology and head of the biodetector dog program at the university, said: “The pathogen does not smell, what smells is the process that is generated in an individual and that is emanated through secretions or excretions.

“The particular smell that we are obtaining is from the armpit sweat, which the dog can detect by the compounds chemicals triggered in the infection and that accompany sweat and are detectable.”

The next step in the process will be to collect sweat samples from Covid-19 patients and train the dogs to detect that smell, as has been done with explosives, drugs, food, people and money.

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