COVID-19: Sniffer dogs to the rescue?

Can specially trained dogs be used for coronavirus screening? A research team in northeastern France is investigating the premise that the canine sense of smell can help prevent the emergence of new outbreaks.In the not-so-distant future, whenever entering a train station, airport, concert hall or stadium, you might come across a four-legged sentinel that will decide, based on your smell, whether to let you in or not. In other words, a detection dog trained to recognise the odour of the coronavirus. Or at least this is the idea proposed by a team of Strasbourg-based researchers, who hope to combat the pandemic using the animals’ extraordinary sense of smell.Is dogs’ sense of smell the doctor’s best friend?The notion is by no means incongruous. Since the first sniffer dogs were deployed to locate mines during World War I, our canine companions have greatly expanded their detection capabilities and are routinely used to sniff out illegal drugs, currency, explosives and arms, or to find earthquake victims trapped under the rubble. Dogs’ noses are lined with some 200 million olfactory receptor cells (compared with only 5 million for us two-legged, less endowed humans), giving them a sense of smell that no physicochemical process or “artificial nose” has yet equalled.It is therefore no surprise that the medical profession has also sought to take advantage of their olfactory superpowers. Detailed studies have proved that dogs can detect malaria, and other projects suggest that they can also smell certain forms of cancer. So how effective would they be with Covid-19? Philippe Choquet, an academic at Strasbourg University Hospital and ICube laboratory,1 decided to find out. “If we get a second wave, i
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