Sniffer Dogs Trained For COVID Detection

A photo shows Cambodian Mine Action Center director-general Heng Ratana holding a sniffer dog. Photo: CMAC.

Landmine detection expertise offers chance of mass screening breakthrough

PHNOM PENH--Dogs used to sniff out landmines from Cambodia’s troubled past are being retrained to detect COVID-19.

Deployment of virus sniffer dogs would put Cambodia among leaders in mass testing as the world looks to a post-pandemic future.

Cambodian Mine Action Center director-general Heng Ratana said five dogs have undergone general training to detect COVID-19. Five more were being prepared. 

He said CMAC's training team was working with the University of Health Sciences with technical support from the Ministry of Health.

"Some dogs have undergone general sniffing training for a while, so we believe it will take about three to four months to try them out for COVID-19," Ratana said.

"Our experts also have some documents ready for training and our location is also available. But we need to make some adjustments to accommodate our new research environment of coronavirus carriers."

International studies show that dogs can detect a range of diseases and disorders in people, including cancers, diabetes and malaria.

The prestigious scientific journal Nature said in November that canines around the world are being trained to detect the whiff of COVID-19 infections.

It said dog trainers are claiming extraordinary results — with some dogs detecting the virus with almost perfect accuracy.

Nature reported scientists suggesting that canines could help to control the pandemic by screening crowds in airports or stadiums.

Dogs’ sense of smell is legendary, with 300 million scent receptors in their noses.  Humans have 5-6 million. One canine expert calculated that a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic swimming pools of water.

Cambodia has built up decades of experience using dogs in landmine detection.

Millions of mines were planted in the north of the country as the genocidal Khmer Rouge was ousted in 1979 and in the conflict that followed.

Since then, thousands of people have been killed or maimed by standing or driving over the relics of war.  International donors have helped fund de-mining, using more than 100 sniffer dogs along with giant African rats.

Cambodia is now battling its own cluster of COVID infections. Since the first case was identified in the country in January 2020, Cambodia has recorded 1,872 cases. Of these, 1,058 patients have recovered, 809 remain under care and seven people have died.




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