Eliot is trained to track down criminals and missing persons, but for a month, this Belgian shepherd has been training to detect the coronavirus in human sweat in a program developed in southwest France.
The intention is to provide a “complementary solution” at a time when “an expanded, fast and non-invasive detection offer is needed”, highlights Thierry Pistone, an infectologist at the University Hospital Center (CHU) in Bordeaux, who joined the 5th. world laboratory veterinarian (Ceva Santé animale) in this project presented to the press on Friday.
Like Eliot, Labrador Marvel and three other Belgian and German shepherds, all members of the canine brigades of the military police and fire brigade, train in their new “game” of sniffing the armpit sweat of people for 10 minutes at the beginning of the covid infection -19.
Dogs are trained to sniff contaminated and uncontaminated human sweat samples – Photo: PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP
Thus, since January 4, sweat samples from the CHU for dogs trained in Libourne arrive almost every day.
“They detect organic matter of degradation derived from the infection”, explains Pierre-Marie Borne, a Ceva reference.
After Eskiss, a specialist in detecting “narcotics”, weapons and ammunition, Belgian shepherd Eliot places his muzzle in a row of metal cones.
Suddenly, he is in front of two of these funnels, waving his tail. Inside, there are two different sweat samples taken from patients with covid-19. “Very good”, the master congratulates him before giving him a snack and his favorite toy as a reward. Until a few days ago, this gendarmerie dog was following the trail of a missing person.
Can detect 95% of cases
Named Cynocov, this project is based on the Nosais covid-19 method, developed by Professor Dominique Grandjean of the Maisons-Alfort National Veterinary School (near Paris) and which enriches the dog’s immense “olfactory library”, since then used to the detection of certain types of cancer.
“Dogs can detect 95% of positive cases of covid-19 on average,” says Professor Grandjean.
The method is being tested on Corsica, the French Mediterranean island, and according to those responsible for the project, “40 countries are working on the subject”.
After six to eight weeks of training, at an average of four mornings a week, the dogs’ fitness should be demonstrated in a clinical test at the hospital before a possible implantation of the tool.
The objective is to test its performance on different types of samples, which refer to different areas of the disease, whether the ability to detect severe or non-serious forms, contagious or less contagious, symptomatic or asymptomatic, but also infected with a variant.
In case of success, “the tool will be used mainly to make a pre-selection” of suspicious people, in order to “specify the need for a confirmatory test” (such as the nasopharyngeal RT-PCR), explains Dr. Pierre-Marie Terminal .
“When we know that asymptomatic people will soon have to be detected in all types of spaces – schools, nursing homes or airports – this type of tool (…) will facilitate the process”, says Denis Malvy, head of the service infectious and tropical diseases of CHU Bordeaux.
For the professor, also a member of the scientific council, these dogs are “almost our allies in the production of a detection tool that he will have”, he hopes, “his space in the need to manage this sanitary emergency”.