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Dogs are being trained to sniff out coronavirus cases

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As some states move to reopen after weeks of shutdowns, infectious disease experts say the prevention of future coronavirus outbreaks will require scaling up testing and identifying asymptomatic carriers.

Eight Labrador retrievers — and their powerful noses — have been enlisted to help.

The dogs are the first trainees in a University of Pennsylvania research project to determine whether canines can detect an odor associated with the virus that causes the disease covid-19. If so, they might eventually be used in a sort of “canine surveillance” corps, the university said — offering a noninvasive, four-legged method to screen people in airports, businesses or hospitals.

It would not be surprising if the dogs prove adept at detecting SARS-CoV-2. In addition to drugs, explosives and contraband food items, dogs are able to sniff out malaria, cancers and even a bacterium ravaging Florida’s citrus groves. Research has found viruses have specific odors, said Cynthia M. Otto, director of the Working Dog Center at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

“We don’t know that this will be the odor of the virus, per se, or the response to the virus, or a combination,” said Otto, who is leading the project. “But the dogs don’t care what the odor is. … What they learn is that there’s something different about this sample than there is about that sample.”

A similar effort is underway at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where researchers previously demonstrated that dogs could identify malaria infections in humans. In a statement, James Logan, head of the school’s disease control department, called canines a “new diagnostic tool” that “could revolutionize our response to covid-19.”

Logan said Tuesday that his research team expects to begin collecting covid-19 samples “within a matter of weeks” and working with the charity Medical Detection Dogs to train canines soon after. The initial goal is to deploy six dogs to airports in the United Kingdom, he said.

“Each individual dog can screen up to 250 people per hour,” Logan said in an email. “We are simultaneously working on a model to scale it up so it can be deployed in other countries at ports of entry, including airports.”

The Working Dog Center typically trains dogs, which live with foster families, at its facility in Philadelphia, but the pandemic is forcing it to adjust. To minimize social contact, the project instead is working with Labs at a K-9 training firm in Maryland, Tactical Directional Canine, Otto said.

Miss M., Poncho and six other chocolate, yellow and black Labs began the first stage of training — learning to identify an odor for a food reward — this month, she said. Next, the dogs will train using urine and saliva samples collected from patients who tested positive and negative at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

The following step is trickier, Otto said: learning to detect the virus in a human.

“That’s going to be the next proof of concept: Can we train them to identify it when a person has it and that person’s moving? Or even standing still?” Otto said.

Exactly how covid-19 detection dogs might be put to use in the United States would depend on demands, Otto said, though no one’s talking about stationing a dog in every hospital or testing site.

If the need is lots of tests, then Penn chemists and physicists might be able to use what they learn from the dogs to create an electronic “nose,” or sensor. The goal of the Working Dog Center’s research on ovarian-cancer-detection dogs, for example, is to produce “an electronic test where thousands and thousands of samples could be screened in a short period,” Otto said.

Other settings, such as fields where the center has trained dogs to detect the eggs of invasive spotted lantern flies, call for actual canines that can quickly roam and sniff, she said.

“The exciting area is the sort of convergence with what dogs are currently doing with  screening for explosives,” she said. “If we can do a similar approach for screening humans, then there will be a large interest” in using dogs to help flag people for testing, she added.

“We don’t have enough detection dogs. And if now, all of a sudden, everyone wants a covid detection dog? It’s going to be a challenge to figure out where are the priorities,” Otto said. “But there’s a lot of opportunity.”

Sources : Washingtonpost

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Priests and monks abducted in Haiti have been released

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HAITI – The remaining Catholic clergy who were kidnapped in Haiti earlier in April have been released, a missionary group said Friday.

The Society of Priests of Saint Jacques said the clergy were freed but did not say if a ransom had been paid.

A total of 10 people were abducted in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, on April 11, including the seven clergy — three of whom have already been released.

The clergy members were a group of four priests and a nun from Haiti, as well as one priest and one nun from France. The three non-clergy were members of the family of a Haitian priest, who was not among those kidnapped.

“Our hearts are filled with joy because we have found our colleagues, the sisters and the family members of Father Jean Anel Joseph in good health,” the missionary society said in a statement, without specifying whether a ransom has been paid.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is plagued by insecurity and natural disasters.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

Haiti’s government resigned and a new prime minister was appointed in the wake of the kidnappings, a move President Jovenel Moise said “will make it possible to address the glaring problem of insecurity and continue discussions with a view to reaching the consensus necessary for the political and institutional stability of our country.”

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New Jersey Government with the announced  give free beer to Covid vaccine recipients

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday announced a new bid to boost coronavirus vaccinations: Receive your first dose in May and get a free beer.

“We’re not going to be afraid to try new things,” Murphy said as he unveiled the new program, dubbed “Shot and a Beer,” at a press briefing.

Thirteen New Jersey-based breweries are participating in the program — which is only available to state residents ages 21 years and older, Murphy specified.

Those New Jerseyans will have to show their vaccine cards as proof before receiving their reward, the Democratic governor said.

The breweries themselves are footing the bill for the free drinks, said Murphy, who suggested more beer-makers could soon be added to the list.

The breweries currently participating are: Battle River Brewing, Bradley Beer Project, Bolero Snort Brewing Company, Brix City Brewing Company, Carton Brewing Company, Flounder Brewing Company, Flying Fish Brewing Company, Gaslight Brewery and Restaurant, Hackensack Brewing Company, Kane Brewing Company, Little Dog Brewing Company, Magnify Brewing Company and River Horse Brewing Company.

The program came from the New Jersey Department of Health in partnership with the Brewer’s Guild of New Jersey.

The Garden State is hardly the first to propose an outside-the-box incentive for people to get vaccinated.

West Virginia’s Republican Gov. Jim Justice last week announced an initiative to give $100 savings bonds to younger state residents who get vaccinated.

Connecticut is offering its own alcoholic incentive with its “Drinks On Us” campaign: Residents who get fully vaccinated and show their vaccine cards at certain restaurants will score a free drink between May 19 and May 31.

Incentive or no, vaccine rates are rising. More than 29% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University, and cases and deaths from Covid are on the decline.

But a significant number of Americans say they are not willing to get vaccinated. A Monmouth University poll published in mid-April found that about 1-in-5 Americans say they won’t get the shot.

That’s prompting health officials and leaders at every level of government to urge more people to seek out and receive their vaccinations.

The “Shot and a Beer” campaign is just one piece of New Jersey’s broader slate of programs aimed at returning the state to a more normal summer as the fight against the pandemic continues.

Murphy announced the free-beer plan after detailing the “Grateful for the Shot” initiative, which makes it possible for congregants to go from religious services directly to vaccination sites.

It’s “perhaps at the other end of the spectrum” of incentives, Murphy said.

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