Coronavirus: Lebanon's COVID-19 cases rise, dogs trained to sniff out infections

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With Lebanon’s coronavirus numbers in the midst of a troubling upswing, officials announced that they are training police dogs from the country’s various security agencies to detect the smell of the virus in sweat.

Lebanon joins a number of countries that have been testing the effectiveness of canines in sniffing out COVID-19, including Germany, Finland, Chile, and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE announced that its studies had shown a 92 percent accuracy rate.

The dogs in Lebanon were trained at an Internal Security Forces barracks in the town of Aramoun south of Beirut, officials announced Wednesday.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan, said the program was “desperately needed.”

Grandjean noted that two specially trained dogs would have the capacity to search about 4,000 people per day.

Lebanese surgeon Riad Sarkis worked on a proof-of-concept study to evaluate the efficacy of using dogs to detect COVID-19 in collaboration with a French team led by Professor Dominique Grandjean of the National Veterinary School of Alfort in France, with testing conducted in both countries.

Read more: Dogs can smell coronavirus in infected people’s armpit sweat: Report

The testing involved eight dogs – originally trained as explosive detection and colon cancer detection dogs – that had been trained to recognize the smell of sweat samples from people who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Through this experiment, we will provide additional technology to protect our society from every arrival, visitor or resident who may be infected with the coronavirus,” Hassan said.

The researchers ran 232 trials using 33 positive samples in France and 136 trials using 68 positive samples in Lebanon, according to a preprint of an article released from the study. Four of the dogs had a 100 percent success rate in identifying the positive samples, with the others being between 83 and 94 percent.

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“In a context where, in many countries worldwide, diagnostic tests are lacking in order to set up a mass detection of COVID-19 contaminant people, we think it is important to explore the possibility of introducing dog olfactive detection as a rapid, reliable and cheap ‘tool’ to either pre-test willing people or be a fast checking option in certain circumstances,” the researchers wrote.

Lebanon’s cases on the rise

While Lebanon’s coronavirus numbers had until recent weeks remained low, they have increased substantially in recent weeks, particularly since the Beirut airport was reopened to commercial flights beginning July 1. Although all arrivals are required to undergo PCR tests, not all of the returning expats and visitors have adhered to quarantining measures prior to getting the results.

On Wednesday, the country reported 124 new cases and two new deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 3,104 and deaths to 43.

Of particular concern to health officials has been the spread of the virus among health workers.

Earlier this week, a 32-year-old doctor, Louay Ismail, died after contracting the coronavirus.

Firass Abiod, director of Rafic Hariri University Hospital, the public hospital that has been leading the country’s coronavirus testing and treatment, wrote that the new numbers are concerning as the majority of them do not appear to be travel-related and almost half of new local cases have no known contact history with other cases.

“We are clearly entering a phase of community spread,” he wrote.

He also noted that with more than 180 healthcare workers having been infected, hospitals will face an increased strain.

“Each infection leads to the quarantine of multiple other workers who were in contact,” he wrote. “This further depletes much needed hospital capacity.”

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