Virus dogs unleashed to sniff out COVID carriers


Sniffer dogs will be trained to identify people with COVID-19 in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne as part of an international research effort.

The University of Adelaide is co-ordinating the Australian program using experienced detector dogs from various sites across the nation.

Lecturer Dr Anne-Lise Chaber, who has been following research overseas with interest, initiated the local project in collaboration with the National Veterinary School in Alfort, France.

"We know that dogs are really good at detecting some other diseases, it's proven," she said.

Dr Chaber said French research led by Professor Dominique Grandjean in France had already completed the "proof of concept" study.

"Some of the dogs had 100 per cent success in detecting sweat from people who were COVID positive," she said.


Those were experienced detection dogs, originally trained for explosives detection, search and rescue, or colon cancer diagnosis.

A total of 18 dogs at three sites were trained to pick the positive COVID-19 sweat sample from a line-up of samples, using positive reinforcement in the form of play with their favourite toy for each correct answer. Dogs trained in this way were also able to identify infected individuals who had no symptoms.

"This is very important if we want to stop the disease," said Dr Chaber said.

"Because the problem is people often don't know they have COVID, they continue their normal life and then they contaminate others."

The first COVID-19 detection dogs could be working within months, patrolling airports and screening staff in hospitals or travellers in quarantine.

They will support existing detection methods standard diagnostic laboratory testing but can be deployed more rapidly and repeatedly.

The canine detection units may even prove to be more sensitive and specific, Dr Chaber said.

"We are aiming to provide another screening tool in the battle against COVID."

"The dogs will be quicker and more cost effective than (currently used) PCR (tests)." Senior lecturer and co-chief investigator Dr Susan Hazel said her pet labrador Fergus, 9, had the right equipment but had not been trained.

"We have dogs lined up ready to use," she said.

"Some are trained for other things like explosives, but we also expect to train up some new dogs as part of the project.

"We're hoping the Federal Government might even become interested and resource more dogs to be trained specifically for this, which is happening in other countries," Dr Hazel said.


Originally published as Virus dogs unleashed to sniff out COVID carriers