Chilean police train dogs to detect people infected with coronavirus
Police in Chile is training dogs to detect people that may be infected with the coronavirus by sniffing their sweat. The dogs – three golden retrievers and a labrador – are between the ages of four and five. Until now, they have been used to sniff out illicit drugs, explosives and lost people, police say.
The training program is a joint effort by Chile’s national police, the Carabineros, and specialists at the Universidad Catolica de Chile.
It follows in the footsteps of similar efforts taking place in France, said Julio Santelices, head of the police school of specialties.
Dogs have 330 million olfactory receptors and an ability to detect smells 50 times better than humans. They can also smell 250 people per hour.
The virus has no smell but, rather, the infection generates metabolic changes which, in turn, leads to the release of a particular type of sweat which is what the dog would detect, Dr Fernando Mardones, a Universidad Catolica professor of veterinary epidemiology said.
According to Santelices, tests in Europe and Dubai have shown a 95% efficiency rate in canine detection of Covid-19 cases.
Medical Detection Dogs, a British charity set up in 2008 to harness dogs’ sharp sense of smell to detect human diseases, also started training canines to detect Covid-19 in late March.
The importance of this scientific study is that it will allow dogs to become bio-detectors and detect this type of illness at an early stage, Santelices added.
Dr Mardones said there is already evidence that dogs can detect diseases such as tuberculosis, parasite infections and even early stages of cancer.
Canines can detect subtle changes in skin temperature, potentially making them useful in determining if a person has a fever. According to the World Organization for Animal Health, the possibility of contagion from a dog is remote.
The canine trainees began their education one month ago and will use sweat samples taken from Covid-19 patients being treated at the Universidad Catolica’s clinic.
The experts hope to have the dogs trained and working in the field by next month. The plan is to deploy them with an officer in pedestrian-heavy areas such as train stations and airports, besides health control stations.
On Tuesday, Chile reported 1,836 new cases of Covid-19 – the lowest figure in two months – taking the total number of cases in the country since March 3 to 319,493.
The disease has killed more than 11,000 people in Chile, according to the most recent official report from the Health Ministry, which includes probable Covid-19 victims