Specially trained dogs can sniff out COVID-19 in seconds, researchers say

As scientists continue their work to fight the coronavirus, breakthrough research has identified a powerful tool in rooting it out, wherever it may live.

That tool is something you might not expect -- dogs.

Specifically trained law enforcement dogs can sniff out COVID-19, and an elementary school in Massachusetts has already used their services, WFXT reports.

“They’re looking for the COVID odor that’s now on any surface, whether it’s a chair, whether it’s a tabletop, garbage pail,” said Bristol County, Massachusetts sheriff’s Captain Paul Douglas.

A canine’s sense of smell is said to be at least 10,000 times stronger than any human’s. And with special training, they can sniff out COVID and indicate what they’ve found -- like one dog who repeatedly tapped on a book found to have the virus on its surface.

Dr. Kenneth Furton is the chief scientific officer at Florida International University. He led the team behind this research.

“Dogs are one of the best tools we have in terms of protecting us,” Dr. Furton said.

So how exactly do these dogs detect COVID?

“We take the masks from patients at local hospitals that we partner with -- COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative patients. We shine UV light on the masks so it’s not harmful to the dog,” Furton said. “What we were able to show is that the dogs were reliably able to find the COVID-19 masks.”

He said the dogs aren’t detecting the actual virus; COVID caused metabolic changes in the human body, and those changes create a specific odor. That’s what the dogs are trained to identify.

Video from FIU shows one dog, Cobra, in action. She’s a Belgian Malinois and can sniff canisters, stopping at the one that has COVID.

“They detect in seconds, doesn’t take minutes or tens of minutes or days to get a result,” Furton said. “You get it back in seconds.”

Back at the elementary school -- when the virus is detected, disinfecting begins immediately. Staff members can also identify which students have visited that specific area, WFXT reports.

“It’s the first thing in a while that’s given us some positivity and hope,” said Fairhaven Public Schools, Massachusetts Superintendent Tara Kohler. “We have children in 2nd and 3rd grade who have only known school to be scary, only known to be nervous about the surroundings around them, and this allows them to have some peace of mind.”

The research is so new that the two dogs in Massachusetts are the only dogs working in schools right now to sniff out COVID. But no doubt, more are sure to follow.

Officials said the COVID risk to the dogs is very small. So far, the dogs are more than 97% accurate at sniffing out COVID but Dr. Furton’s team is working to get that rate even higher.

(WATCH BELOW: NC health officials deny petition seeking COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students 17 and older)

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