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Dogs work to detect COVID-19

Kasey Jackson | Dec 22, 2020

Dogs work to detect COVID-19 A Kiwanian in Belgium has been working hard for the past several months to bring together experts in an effort to train dogs to sniff out COVID-19.

Miguel Stevens, vice governor of the Belgium-Luxembourg District and member of the Kiwanis Club of Roeselare Rodenbach in Belgium, is a military veterinarian. For 15 years, he was chief of the Belgian Military Veterinary Service and for the past three years has served as chairman of the NATO Veterinarians. A colleague of his in France got him thinking about the possibility of using dogs to detect COVID-19 in patients.

“Dr. Dominique Grandjean from the National Veterinary School in Maisons-Alfort, France, had this idea and tested it with encouraging results with a few dogs of the Firebrigade from Paris,” Stevens says. “Since I teach at both veterinary faculties in Belgium (in Ghent and Liège), and I still know a lot of people worldwide in the area of working dogs, I wanted to bring together all the people in Belgium who could be interested, in order to avoid spreading the efforts and everyone working independently.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Dogs work to detect COVID-19 Stevens was successful in bringing together universities, the Belgium Ministry of Defense, the National Police and Civil Protection to work on this initiative. Working dogs already trained in various skills, including how to sniff out explosives, are being used for the COVID-19 testing project.

Stevens was also able to recruit hundreds of Kiwanians to volunteer as test subjects. And what does it mean to be a test subject? The Kiwanians each get a piece of wool or cotton to place under their armpit, where their sweat and scent is captured. Each wool or cotton sample is then placed into a glass jar for the dogs to sniff. All participants are also tested for COVID-19, and the result is kept with their sample to identify which are positive or negative.

Having Kiwanis members help with the project was a win-win, Stevens says.  

“All clubs in Belgium are having a difficult time right now, not many projects, no visibility,” Stevens says. “I thought if we could associate Kiwanis to this project, we would have a link with the government, the police and universities, which lends us legitimacy. It costs nothing to the clubs. We only needed to find a building, a couple of people who could direct traffic and for members to come spend 30 minutes to get a test and keep wool or cotton under their armpits.”

The project also allowed Kiwanians and volunteers to sign up to receive the results of their test — whether they were detected to have the virus or not.

Another big win: The Ministry of Public Health in Belgium gave them a budget of EUR60,000 in mid-November for the project, which is still in its early stages.

“If this is successful, the government will be presented with the results,” Stevens says. “And then it will decide if dogs can be used for that purpose at an airport or before an event. There is no guarantee this will be successful.

“I am excited and hope to be able to prove that our dogs can indeed indicate positive carriers of COVID-19. Then I hope to convince the government to invest in dogs and people, so schools and all other economic and social activities can go back to normal as soon as possible.”

This story will be updated as results of the project become available.

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