Man’s best friend is taking on a new and important role — sniffing out the coronavirus to help detect possible cases in Turkiye.
K9 dogs have been used by security forces for many years as assistants in finding explosives and drugs. These animals, whose sense of smell is much more developed than that of humans, can also detect some diseases in humans.
A security company based in Istanbul has also carried out a scientific study involving the use of K9 dogs, which had previously been tested abroad, in the detection of positive COVID-19 cases.
Istanbul-based Sadi Konuk Training and Research Hospital and Istanbul University Cerrahpaşa Faculty of Veterinary Medicine along with TAV Security have concluded a study which they have been conducting for about a year.
Expert and experienced K-9 trainers at the training center in Istanbul’s Arnavutkoy district began experimenting with the dogs in the K9 unit after the necessary permits were obtained and cooperation agreements were signed with the relevant institutions.
Sweat samples taken from the armpits of patients were smelled by the dogs.
Researchers observed that dogs trained with the reward-punishment system, which lasted for about six months, could distinguish the odors of sick people. K9 dogs react by sitting in front of positive COVID-19 cases they detect.
K9 dogs to patrol airports
After being tested in environments where people are present in the final phase of the project, K9 dogs will be able to take charge wherever there are crowds of people, especially airports.
Turgay Sahan, general manager at TAV Security, told Anadolu Agency that they established a training center in 2019 to train K9 dogs.
Sahan said that K9 dogs, whose sense of smell is tens of thousands of times more developed than humans, have been involved in the detection of diseases in a number of countries throughout the world for many years.
Noting that they set out from the ability of dogs to detect explosives and diseases for this study, Sahan said that by examining the already in use practice, “we started to develop our K9 unit on this issue, which is of critical importance under pandemic conditions.”
“In the past, we completed all our preparations for the tests by providing the necessary equipment, while the basic scent training of the dogs continued,” he added.
Noting that similar studies are being carried out from different countries, Sahan said: “We saw that there was a need for such a study by taking into account the needs of our own geography and our own country.”
“In the detection of COVID-19, PCR, antigen and antibody tests are the essence of the work. Our determinations with K9 dogs will not get in the way of these medical tests.
“We think that K9 dogs can help with these tests to maintain speed and comfort where crowd management is a priority. We think it will make our job easier,” he added.
Sahan also noted that their work is scientific research and consists of four separate phases and added that K9 dogs have successfully passed the training.
“In the training, the characteristics of the cases are written. The behavior of the dogs is recorded. Medical checks of dogs are carried out continuously and at regular intervals. Dogs are being checked for infection,” he said.
“We turned this place into a semi-health facility model. It was very important to contribute to the hygiene of the employees and dogs, and to transport the incoming samples here in the right environment,” he said.
According to Sahan, Phase 2 lasted more than six months.
“At the point we have reached today, we have seen that the ability of K9 dogs to test for COVID-19 is over 94%.”
Sahan said their study’s outcome will be scientifically published after the necessary permissions are obtained by their partners.
“This will be the third phase of the project. After this publication, we will move on to the implementation phase of the 4th phase in airports and similar places.”
Orkun Kara, a K9 trainer, said that 10 dogs were trained to detect COVID-19 patients.
Noting that all dogs achieve a certain degree of success in detecting the coronavirus, Kara said: “Almost all of our dogs are more than 90% successful. However, some of our dogs are higher.”
According to Kara, the dogs will work in crowded environments in a way that does not frighten people.
On the dogs’ training process, Kara said: “We collect armpit sweat samples from patients who are positive for COVID-19. We bring these samples in bags and continue training on them.”
“We make dogs memorize these scents,” he added. “Currently, all our dogs have memorized all the variants. Dogs know these scents. When the dogs find the positive substance, they sit.”
Kara explained that all of the training dogs are actually explosive detection dogs and they know about eight types of explosives scents.
“Together with COVID, they have memorized the ninth scent,” he added.
“With the apparatus we have prepared, dogs can detect odors from a distance of 8-10 centimeters (3.15-4 inches),” he said.