Five dogs are trained in the detection of Covid-19 in Gironde, as part of the Cynocov project, installed on the site of the veterinary group Céva Santé Animale.
The results are convincing and lead the health authorities to consider deploying under certain conditions the dogs trained to carry out predetections.
Inseparable from their owners, these animals show real reliability but also a certain variability, like any living being.
“That's very very good,” congratulates the dog handler, slipping a reward into the animal's mouth. In the premises of the Cynocov project, in Libourne in Gironde, the morning begins with a small so-called reinforcement session for the five dogs in training for the detection of Covid 19. It is a short warm-up tour to remind canines of the rules of game: their masters have been training them since January to mark when the samples, compresses soaked in human sweat, are positive for the virus. In connection with the Bordeaux University Hospital to collect the samples, it is within the veterinary pharmaceutical laboratories Céva Santé Animale that these dogs are trained to track the Covid.
Faced with the effectiveness of canine flair in this area, confirmed by a study published in May, the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, explains to
that it "works in conjunction with other ministries and research teams like those of Professor Grandjean (at Maisons-Alfort) to support and accelerate several pilot projects currently being considered for deployment this summer.
"Presented as a screening support tool, dogs trained to screen for Covid in humans could be deployed to residents and visitors in nursing homes, but also in places of high traffic (stadiums, airports, stations, etc.) etc.).
Not for just any doggie
Already trained in human detection for the needs of the army, firefighters and the gendarmerie, the five young dogs respond directly to their masters with whom they form an inseparable pair.
They parade in the small room in length in which they are invited to slip their truffles in cones containing neutral, positive or negative samples.
"The animal performs a scenting action on each cone, it must then be valued when it makes a positive marking and at the end, we try to enhance all of its work through a game, comments Lieutenant Bruno Carré," dog handler trainer and technical advisor at SDIS Gironde.
He must maintain the enthusiasm to continue working and repeating the scent.
And the case of the Covid, the case is not thin since it must learn a new smell.
“When we integrate neutral compresses without anything, for the dog it has an odor.
It is his master who teaches him to erase this smell, by differentiation, points out Pierre-Marie Borne, in charge of the Cynocov project for Céva Animal Health.
It will only be rewarded when it marks the specific smell of sweat as a deduction from the smell of the compress.
It takes an average of seven weeks for a dog to acquire basic training.
An irreplaceable duo
Only the master can interpret the markings of the dog that he "shaped" during training. Lieutenant Bruno Carré's labrador simply lies down in front of the cone when he has identified the virus and Lucky, a five-year-old Malinois, trained by adjutant Jean-François Bachelier, reservist of the gendarmerie, sits down. "A Malinois is a dog that needs activity, to work so I trained him in drug detection," explains the warrant officer who had yet retired two years ago. I did well as the Region asked me for Cynocov. This training requires a lot of concentration from this animal for whom working indoors is not easy. "The effort is brief but it must be precise", summarizes the adjutant.
During the tests, the dog handler also ignores which are the positive samples so as not to unwittingly give clues to the animal which constantly deciphers its behavior and especially wants to please it.
Their complicity must not bias the results.
Until now, dogs mark in the same way, with a reliability close to 95%, regardless of the variants under their nose.
A predetection to be considered with caution
"The PCR test detects when you start to have symptoms or a little before, there must be the virus and its genetic material is found when it multiplies", explains Marc Prikazsky, veterinarian by training and CEO of Ceva Animal Health. The dog detects the bird more upstream, resulting from the modification produced in a biochemical cell by contact with the virus. But beware, he warns, it is not a question of comparing PCR and canine detection, dedicated to different and complementary uses. "The dog is instantaneous and, for example, on a family entering a stadium, it would be easy, and there is potentially a community of pathologies", points out Marc Prikazsky.
Research to synthesize the volatile, which would avoid going through the tedious preparation of compresses soaked in sweat, are in progress. Dog training would be greatly simplified since the olfactory signature would be clearer. "You cannot certify a dog like a PCR, there is necessarily variability," warns Pierre-Marie Borne. They are useful for predetection, to find the needle in the haystack. The training needs could in any case be important if this track of canine detection is deepened by the health authorities.
“The Region is following us on this project and the Bordeaux University Hospital as well, appreciates Marc Prikazsky.
I would like us to continue on other diseases: we can imagine a school of experimentation on dogs and the detection of other diseases, such as cancer ”.
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