Airport dogs to sniff out COVID-19

 

Sniffer dogs capable of picking up signs of COVID-19 in human sweat could be stationed at Australian airports next year under an Australian Border Force proposal to bolster frontline defence against the pandemic.

Under the biosecurity plan, travellers identified by the dogs as being potentially infected would be asked to provide an armpit sweat sample.

Deployment of the dogs will hinge on the final results of 14 animals being trained and ­tested at the University of ­Adelaide and the ABF National Detector Dog Program Facility in Victoria.

The Department of Home Affairs has provided $272,616 towards the training program - which is also being funded by the university - with the results to determine whether the trial will be extended into the community.

Adelaide University’s Dr Anne-Lise Chaber with Australian Border Force detector dog handler Lisa Saunders with dogs Quake (left) and Xena. Picture Simon Cross
Adelaide University’s Dr Anne-Lise Chaber with Australian Border Force detector dog handler Lisa Saunders with dogs Quake (left) and Xena. Picture Simon Cross

While results are being ­finalised, it can be revealed the mix of labradors and spaniels have so far have exceeded ­expectations in picking up specific odours in sweat samples produced by people infected with COVID-19.

Anne-Lise Chaber, who has led the research along with Susan Hazel from the university's School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, said previous studies had shown dogs were capable of detecting odours - or Volatile Organic Compounds - produced by the human body's response to viral infections.

 

 

Preliminary results showed specialised working dogs could not only detect COVID-19 VOCs in patients, but also with people asymptomatic or in the incubation phase.

"The dogs are very, very sensitive," Dr Chaber said.

"We still have got more ­exercises to do, including a double blind test, but we are confident of it going well.

"We will deliver the results to the ABF in two weeks."

Dr Chaber said COVID-19 detector dogs could potentially provide an efficient, reliable and complementary screening method as part of a future suite of biosecurity strategies in Australia. The dogs could also be deployed to screen staff in hospitals and travellers in quarantine, she said.

Dr Hazel said: "The dog's nose beats the best current technology in identifying infected people."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the trial provided an additional screening method to safeguard Australia against COVID-19.

 

Originally published as Airport dogs to sniff out COVID-19


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