Chile is training dogs to detect coronavirus patients, a measure devised in France that is also being developed in the United Kingdom.

Chile trains police dogs to detect COVID-19 patients.

Thanks to their keen sense of smell, dogs are used around the world to detect drugs, money or explosives, capacities that in Chile They try to apply now to the detection of the coronavirus through a canine brigade that can differentiate sick people from Covid-19 and healthy people by smell.

An innovative measure devised in France but that they already develop also in United Kingdom, Finland and United Arab Emirates and that he has crossed half the world to try to put it into practice with four Carabineros (Chilean Police) dogs.

Although SARS-CoV-2 itself does not smell of anything, the immune response of the human body to deal with Covid-19 generates components through sweat that can be detected by dogs, whose olfactory capacity is 50 times higher than that of humans.

Colonel Julio Santelices, director of the Carabineros de Chile specialties school, explained that this “Scientific prevention” It is a milestone for the canine brigades, which have already demonstrated their effectiveness in detecting other substances that do have a specific odor in themselves.

Anticovid-19 police dogs

The project developed by the Carabineros and the Catholic University seeks to create a first canine brigade capable of detecting people in public spaces. sick with Covid-19 in early stages, with special attention to asymptomatic cases.

Although the training of the dogs still is in a first phase, the idea is that by the end of August they could be working in the street to face the coronavirus in Chile, which registers some 320,000 cases and 7,069 deaths from Covid-19.

“In one hour a dog can sniff 250 people. If we enter a bus terminal or stadium with 4 dogs, they can sniff 1,000 people in an hour. The effectiveness is very important and we established that it is higher than 95%, “said Colonel Santelices.

The 300 million nerve endings existing in the snout of a dog make this animal a perfect weapon to detect coronavirus patients, and the four pioneers of the Carabineros are of the labrador and golden retriever breeds, the elite among hounds and sniffer dogs.

“The dogs, once they are trained for the smell of Covid-19, they will be able to detect this type of disease early and that will allow the Carabineros to isolate this person, coordinate with the Ministry of Health, transfer him to a hospital and do the PCR test and refer him to a health center or home of rest ”, added the uniformed man.

Scientific basis in the immune response

While the four canine agents and their respective guides continue with their preparation, at the Universidad Católica de Chile they refine the scientific bases of the initiative. Fernando Mardones is a professor of veterinary epidemiology at this study center and is in charge of the project of the perros biodetectores, which at the moment in Chile is in the first phase of study design.

The pathogen does not smellWhat smells is the process that is generated in an individual and that is emanated through secretions or excretions. The particular smell that we are getting is from the sweat from the armpit, which the dog can detect by the chemical compounds triggered in the infection and which accompany the sweat and are detectable ”, he pointed out.

Mardones explained that it is still not clear what the exact element that canine smell can detect is, but there is certainty that some component of the immune response that is seen in sweat can be located by the dog.

If the investigation is progressing favorably, the next step is to collect samples of sweat from the armpits of Covid-19 patients, treat them to make them durable and train dogs to detect that smell, just like explosives, drugs, food, people or money. ”The dog has a very complex olfactory system of neural networks and what we see is that to the dog is very easy to detect this process, “said Mardones.

The scientist added that this project of detecting diseases through the smell of dogs can open up an immensity of possibilities for other pathologies difficult to detect in the early stages, such as cancer or tuberculosis, or for possible future pandemics. “We do not know if this is going to be the only pandemic that humanity is going to experience, so it is even more relevant that we are working on this scientific research,” said Colonel Santelices.

In addition, and for the peace of mind of animal lovers, dogs are not at risk of contagion, since they have a very low probability of getting sick by Covid-19, so they are an element with infinite possibilities in the first line of detection of SARS-CoV-2.