K9 dogs sniff Covid-19 at Dubai Airport

Dubai International Airport now has a specialised team of dogs and trainers to screen passengers. The process is simple and non-invasive. Officials of the Dubai Health Authority take sweat samples from passengers. The samples seem to be taken from their armpits, a significantly less painful procedure than the usual nasal and throat swabs that have become the norm for testing. From there, the sample is sniffed by the dogs through a funnel-like contraption. There is no direct contact between the dogs and the passengers. If the dog detects a positive result, the passenger is taken for the nasal PCR test. 

Can dogs smell the coronavirus?

A study conducted in May this year by the charity Medical Detection Dogs with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Durham University, supports the fact that respiratory diseases have their own unique odour, which means that trained dogs will be able to pick this up on those carrying the COVID-19 virus.

Since March this year, a research team at France’s National Veterinary School of Alfort has been training detector dogs to sniff out traces of this strain of coronavirus. The dogs are trained using sweat samples from people infected with COVID-19. Most dogs can detect a positive sample from a line of negative samples with 100% accuracy. Sweat, and not saliva, is taken because it is considered not to be infectious—a safer option for all involved. According to the research team, a dog trained to sniff other diseases can be honed to sniff out COVID-19 in 6-8 weeks. For a dog that has not been trained to pick up scents, the process could take six months. All the dogs trained to detect the virus are regularly checked using nasal and rectal swab tests and blood tests. So far, none of the dogs used have been infected.

Using sniffer dogs is not the only measure of protection in place at the airport. As of 1 August, all passengers travelling to or through Dubai International or Dubai World Central airport have to carry negative COVID-19 PCR tests, taken up to 96 hours before travel. Passengers from high-risk countries or those displaying symptoms, may be tested again on arrival.

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