It was Harlock’s first day at coronavirus training school and she already showed promise.
The one-year-old German Shepherd’s task on Wednesday morning was simply to place her slightly wet nose on a black tube.
“Sniff,” encouraged her trainer, Massimiliano Macera, who was quick to reward his furry student with treats whenever nose met tube.
“She’s already got it!” he added, smiling at his part of a team of dogs learning how to sniff out Covid-19.
The project, which began 10 days ago at Rome’s Campus Bio-Medico University Hospital, involves training dogs to detect the presence of coronavirus in human sweat.
If found to be reliable, it could prove a faster and cheaper method of detection in crowd situations, whether a football match or rock concert, say those working on the project.
“If we have 1,000 people we have to screen with an antigen swab, it would take us about 20 minutes for each person,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, a professor of epidemiology at the university.
“A dog, using their olfactory senses, would take 30 seconds maximum.”
Dogs, with their sensitive noses packed with receptors, are increasingly being used to detect human diseases, including cancer, diabetes or Parkinson’s.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, researchers in countries around the world including Finland, Germany, France and the United Arab Emirates have launched sniffer dog trials.
But some scientists believe such testing has not yet been widely adopted by authorities in part because of a lack of peer-reviewed literature.