Pokaa, a two-year-old golden retriever, is helping the fight against Covid-19 in a care home for the elderly in the north-eastern French region of Alsace. With a remarkable success rate, Pokaa is 48 hours quicker than a PCR laboratory test, and does not need to stick anything up your nose. He uses his own!
Working since last week at the Roselière care home in Kunheim, near the town of Colmar, Pokaa is the first French sniffer dog to be used in the fight against the coronavirus.
Instead of carrying out a blood test or a nasal swab, Pokaa simply needs to be allowed sniff a piece of cloth which the patient has kept under an armpit for five minutes.
Pokaa sniffs a range of samples, and will sit before those which he considers to be positive.
Those patients identified as potentially positive by Pokaa are then given PCR tests to confirm the dog's findings.
Pokaa has be found to be 100 percent accurate for symptomatic sufferers, and 95 percent for those without symptoms. And he gives immediate results, especially important for older people who can quickly be isolated from other vulnerable patients.
The dog has been trained by the charity Handi'chiens to recognise the protein spike which the coronavirus uses to enter and infect healthy cells. He has no trouble with any of the variants currently circulating.
Fast, friendly and cheap
While sniffer dogs already have an illustrious history as detectors of various medical conditions, Pokaa is special in that the residents in the Kunheim care home already know and accept him, the simple, non-invasive approach is important for older patients, some of whom suffer from Alzheimer's or other cognitive conditions, and he's cheap.
Apart from regular checks on residents and staff, it's hoped to get Pokaa involved in checking the viral health status of all visitors to the home.
"He's going to save lives," says Robert Kohler, director of the Roselière.
Pokaa was already working as a canine visitor to 20 care homes in the Alsace region. It took just four weeks to teach him the new skill of Covid identification.
Two other dogs trained at the same time as Pokaa will shortly begin working in other local care establishments.