VANCOUVER – A health agency that has used dogs to detect disease in the past has found a way to use their dog odor detection team to track down COVID-19.
Vancouver Coastal Health trained its team called Canines for Care to signal the smell of the disease.
The British Columbia Department of Health said it was “not an easy task” to train a team of dogs already capable of detecting C. difficile to detect a relatively new type of infection.
It took the experienced team about six months to figure out the process.
Even finding the right dogs – two Labrador Retrievers and an English Springer Spaniel – required a global approach. VCH said the team, funded in part by Health Canada’s restart program, worked with others around the world to find dogs with the right combination of genetics and potential.
“Every dog can sniff, but not every dog can work,” said Teresa Zuberg, a specialist in odor detection in dogs, in a press release by the VCH on Thursday.
When the dogs named Micro, Yoki and Finn were selected, the team had to figure out how to get access to the samples and train the canines in a way that was safe for the puppies and their handlers.
The trial was led by Dr. Marthe Charles, Head of Medical Microbiology and Infection Prevention and Control at VCH, explains as follows.
“Working closely with the clinical teams, we were able to collect COVID-19 saliva, breath and sweat samples from consenting patients across the various populations in our health region,” said Charles.
“Access to this set of samples enabled robust odor detection training. The odor samples are processed in such a way that the risk of transmitting active viruses is excluded and our team is protected. “
In August, Micro, Yoki and Finn passed what VCH calls a “rigorous validation process” by a third party.
According to VCH, the dog team is part of its strategy to “approach COVID-19 prevention from every possible angle”.
The health agency was the first in the world to launch its C. diff detection program for dogs and is now planning to develop a dog training program to ensure ongoing public health support.
Possible future applications of teams like that of the VCH are the detection of COVID-19 at airports and on cruise ships.