Rwanda will next month start using sniffer dogs to detect people infected with coronavirus by smelling people in public spaces.
The Director-General of the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana and Dr. Thomas Kurz The Ambassador of Germany in Rwanda on Monday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will kick start use of Sniffer dogs in tracking Covid-19 cases.
The project dubbed “Scent Identification of COVID-19 using dogs” to detect people infected with virus comes at a time when the government has embarked on public screening.
According to a French-Lebanese research team, the animals can detect Covid-19 in almost 100% of cases, after smelling human sweat. Scientists believe that the dogs are able to sniff chemicals produced and released by the body when the virus infects cells, hence testing the sweat.
Similar sniffer dog projects, introduced mid this year, have already used at the airports of Helsinki, Dubai, Lebanon and Finland, and the dogs have a detection rate of 94%.
Finland is the first country in Europe to assign dogs to sniff out the virus as a pilot stage, and the second in the world, following a similar program which started at Dubai International Airport over the summer.
“So excited about this new Rwanda-Germany project with RBC. (This is) yet another great joint project…so glad we are in this together fighting Covid-19,” the Germany embassy said on twitter.
“This project will accelerate our testing capabilities especially in public places where mass testing will be needed,” Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana told Rwandan media.
Nsanzimana also revealed that the exercise will start next month (December 2020) and the country will need as many sniffer dogs as it can possibly handle in this new project.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, early, ideally real-time, identification of SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals is pivotal in interrupting infection chains. Volatile organic compounds produced during respiratory infections can cause specific scent imprints, which can be detected by trained dogs with a high rate of precision.
According to research, these particular dogs were trained to detect saliva or tracheobronchial secretions of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients in a randomised, double-blinded and controlled study.
The dogs can identify respiratory secretion samples from hospitalised and clinically diseased SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals by discriminating between samples from SARS-CoV-2 infected patients and negative controls.
Dogs’ noses bear 300 million scent receptors, compared with humans’ 5 million or 6 million. That enables them to detect tiny concentrations of odour that people can’t. Sniffer dogs have been able to successfully detect other diseases like cancer and tuberculosis.
“So, a dog’s sense of smell is around thousands of times more powerful than a human’s,” veterinary surgeon, Gudi Stuttard, told CGTN Europe, explaining the science behind how man’s best friend can also sniff diseases.
“Proportionally their noses are much bigger than a humans. So they have a huge surface area of olfactory mucosa, or lining,” Stuttard said.
“So every time they take a breath and sniff, that large area is sensing all the smells in that sniff. Within that lining, they have around two to 300 million olfactory receptors to be able to detect the odors, compared to our six million,” she added.
It’s not just their noses that make them effective at the job, it’s also the area of their brain that’s responsible for processing smell, which is around 40 times larger than the size of a human’s.
All these amazing features in dogs make them more aware of smells in a way that humans cannot understand.
“And what it means is that they can potentially detect changes in the odor profile of people with particular diseases,” Stuttard explained.
“And if they can do that, then it’s simply a case of training them to differentiate those odors and then to highlight when they smell them,” she said.
According to researchers, training the dogs takes only a few weeks, and with the speed at which the dogs are able to identify the virus on carriers, this method could prove very efficient and reliable, with the possibility of wide deployment at airports, ports of entry or transport hubs.
The sniffer dogs will add to Rwanda’s package of measures to use technology and all available resources to prevent more Covid-19 infections in public places as government moves to open more business operations and travel in and out of the country.
Rwanda has installed a series of robots at the Kigali International Airport (KIA) in an effort to minimize the risk of medical staff catching coronavirus but also increasing trust of safety among international travellers who touch and leave Rwanda soil since August.
As of November 22, 2020, Rwanda had recorded 5,665 cases of Covid-19 infections, and 47 deaths but equally registering a good number of recoveries (5,164) and over 607,000 tests.
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