Passengers arriving at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda can now be tested for COVID-19 without inserting swabs into their nose or throat to collect lab samples and wait for minutes to receive results.
Instead, the airport is using trained sniffer dogs to detect Covid-19 by smelling sweat samples taken from passengers with just cotton patches. The collected samples are then taken to the sniffing cabin set up in a separate area.
With an accuracy close to that of a PCR test in about one minute, a dog quickly detects which of the samples in the cabins has COVID-19.
This initiative was launched on Friday June 4, at Kigali International Airport as a three-month pilot with five dogs acquired from Police Dogs Centre Holland B.V, which supplies working dogs and related services to police, customs and security companies all over the world.
Rwanda says sniffer dogs will reduce the time and cost of testing at the Kigali International Airport. The Rwanda Biomedical Center says it has plan to scale up the use of sniffer dogs at mass gatherings based on the outcomes of this pilot phase, a partnership between Rwanda and Germany.
Germany supplied the Detection Dog Training System from Kynoscience, a German firm that also trained the dog handlers from the Canine Brigade of the Rwanda National Police.
It is believed that dogs can distinguish between more than a million different smells, they can detect even the finest traces of scent, and just a few molecules are enough for them to smell a substance.
In July 2020, researchers from Germany trained army sniffer dogs to distinguish between samples of fluids from patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 and healthy donors.
In this particular study, the researchers under the leadership of Dr. Esther Schalke, a vet at Germany’s armed forces school for service dogs and Prof. Holger Volk, Department Chair for Small Animal Diseases of Hanover’s University of Veterinary Medicine trained eight Bundeswehr (German Army) detection dogs over the period of a week to detect the saliva and secretions from the lungs and windpipe of patients who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2.
The 1st Secretary of the Germany Embassy in Rwanda, Renate Charlotte Lehner, said that Rwanda reach out to Germany to try the dogs in the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus and create a solid foundation for future studies to investigate what the dogs smell and whether they can also be used to differentiate between different times of illness or clinical phenotypes.
The dog expert, Hans Ebbers, who is also CEO of Kynoscience, says there is no special breed but certain dogs are more talented.