Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: June 17, 2021

Sniffer dogs could join frontline efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus across Australia, if a trial involving passengers at Adelaide Airport proves successful.

A team of six labradors is taking part in the latest stage of a global research effort to see whether positive COVID-19 cases among incoming travellers can be detected by odour.

“These trials are still in early stages, but if they are successful, detector dogs could provide an important screening method to safeguard Australia against COVID-19,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

Ms Andrews said dogs could end up being deployed “across a range of environments such as at airports, stadiums and crowded locations to screen large amounts of people quickly, reducing the chance of the virus spreading at big events”.

Phase three of the COVID-19 detector dog feasibility study follows a trial at Sydney International Terminal in March, and is “part of an international research alliance led out of France,” SA Health Minister Stephen Wade said.

Results are expected later this year, and the trial is being run by Australian Border Force (ABF) in collaboration with organisations including the University of Adelaide’s veterinary school.

“At the moment it’s a voluntary process and the dogs don’t interact with passengers,” ABF Chief Superintendent Brett Liebich said.

Health lecturer Anne-Lise Chaber said dogs had proven “extremely accurate” at identifying the virus in controlled settings.

“The dog is not detecting the virus itself,” Dr Chaber said.

“When they find a positive one they will do the conditioned response which is a sit and stare, as to indicate ‘we found it’.

“The dogs are able to detect that someone is positive before they start shedding the virus.

“Accuracy was ranging from 96 to 98 per cent.”

Dr Chaber said the method was intended to complement, rather than replace, other detection tools.

“For now we are working on samples so we take a sweat sample from both [armpits],” she said.

“It’s only two minutes under your armpits and then we give that to the dog.”

SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said detection dogs could add a significant layer of protection to Australia’s frontline coronavirus control efforts.

“What this will mean if things go the way we hope and are planning, is that we will be able to detect very early on if people are infected,” she said.

“We would be able to direct them into that quarantine facility and it’s very important in terms of our infection control and protecting the whole of the South Australian community.”

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