Researchers at Vancouver Coastal Health are working on a new weapon they hope will defeat the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The canine scent detection program is expanding to include dogs trained to sniff out the disease.
The program, formed five years ago to detect and reduce cases of the easily spread bacteria C. difficile, has added three new dogs capable of identifying COVID-19.
The two Labrador retrievers, Micro and Yoki, as well as Finn, an English springer spaniel, underwent six months of training, and all three are now certified to detect the virus.
The health authority said in a release Thursday that identifying pathogens like the COVID-19 virus or C. difficile bacteria in health-care settings can reduce infection rates and improve quality of care.
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Dogs have more than 300 million olfactory receptors, compared with 400 in humans, and the health authority said the finely tuned ability to detect COVID-19 could also make dogs invaluable at airport screening sites, on cruise ships and at public events.
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The skills of Micro, Yoki and Finn have been assessed for scent detection by a third party, and each was found to have 100-per-cent sensitivity in identifying COVID-19 in a lab setting.
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Dr. Marthe Charles, head of medical microbiology and infection prevention and control at Vancouver Coastal, said the results are exciting and the researchers, dog handlers and dogs are looking forward to the next steps.
“The fact that we’re seeing such strong results speaks to the rigor of our training program,” she said.
“These findings are superior to certain antigen tests available on the market.”
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Choosing the dogs was also challenging, said Teresa Zurberg, a nationally recognized canine handler, and a canine scent detection specialist.
Researchers worked with teams from around the world to find animals with the right combination of genetics and work potential.
“Every dog can sniff but not every dog can work,” she said.
The dogs were then exposed to a wide variety of COVID-19 breath, saliva and sweat samples, prepared in a way that removes the risk of transmission from an active virus, protecting the humans and animals involved, Charles said.
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