Dogs can be trained to detect COVID-19 | Kiowa County Press

Florida International University researchers have successfully trained One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd, and three other dogs to detect COVID-19 on face masks. The dogs were successful 96-99% of the time. Joe Raedle/Staff/Getty Images North America

Kenneth G. Furton, Florida International University; Julien Mendel, Florida International Universityand Kelvin J. Frank Jr., Florida International University

With up to 300 million olfactory receptors, dogs are among the best smell detectors in the animal world. The human nose, by comparison, contains only about 6 million olfactory receptors. Dog brains also devote 40% more brain space than humans to analyze odors.

This is why people train dogs to seek out various targets via smell, from illegal drugs and agricultural pests at missing persons, endangered wildlife species and more. Dogs achieve this by successfully recognizing the smells of substances called volatile organic compounds that are specifically associated with these targets. Not only can trained dogs detect these volatile organic compounds, but often they can do so with greater sensitivity than analytical instruments.

Volatile organic compounds can be produced by living organisms as well as natural or synthetic materials. In humans, they are produced by metabolic activity in the body, then enter the bloodstream and are finally released into the air through blood, urine, feces, skin, or breath.

Scientists have found that dogs can be trained to successfully recognize unique volatile organic compounds, called “biomarkers”, in the exhaled breath of patients with certain chronic illnesses or medical conditions, including Cancer and Diabetesalso for pre-crisis detection in people with epilepsy.

Our team of canine scent scientists from Florida International University wanted to determine if COVID-19 was among the diseases that trained dogs can detect. Our recent studythat we realized with our colleague, forensic biologist DeEtta Millsconfirms it.

We believe that dogs hold great promise as a rapid screening method which, when used with other measures such as rapid tests, can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and end the pandemic. Some of the dogs trained during our research have already proven their abilities in airports and public events.

Training dogs to detect COVID-19

For several decades, Florida International University International Institute of Forensic Research has been a global institution for detector dog research. The majority of this research has focused on identifying specific volatile organic compounds that natural or synthetic materials and living organisms produce that dogs can be trained to detect.

In our recent researchwe hypothesized that people infected with COVID-19 would release specific volatile organic compounds and that a well-trained scent detection dog would be able to distinguish these biomarkers from other volatile organic compounds.

So, in collaboration with Baptist Health South Florida, a nonprofit health care organization, we obtained face masks from hospitalized patients with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19, as well as those who tested negative for COVID. -19.

We then trained four dogs to respond to COVID-19 positive masks, while ignoring COVID-19 negative masks and unused masks. In the process, the dogs learned to differentiate between biomarkers from COVID-19 breath and non-COVID-19 breath.

One of the training tools we used was an odor detection wheel. We placed the COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative masks in boxes with small holes in the lids, which were attached to the ends of the wheel arms. The dogs then circled the wheel sniffing the volatile organic compounds coming out of these holes.

A large black and tan dog walking around a scent detection training wheel.
Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, undergoes training with a scent detection wheel to identify COVID-19 biomarkers on face masks. Julian Mendel/Florida State University, CC BY-ND

After 40 double-blind trials – meaning the people who trained the dogs didn’t know which masks were which – we found that each of the four dogs in this study accurately detected COVID-19 positive masks more than 90% of the time.

Mac, a Terrier mix, was successful in 96.2% of attempts. Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, was right 99.4% of the time. A Betta, a Dutch Shepherd, was successful 98.1% of the time, and Hubble, a Border Collie mix, 96.3% of the time.

After the study, Cobra and One Betta went to work at the state emergency operations command center, in Tallahassee, Florida, testing surfaces for COVID-19. In May 2021, the two dogs also put their COVID-19 detection skills to good use at the annual Food and Wine Festival In Miami.

In September 2021, Cobra and One Betta worked for two 30-day pilot studies at Miami International Airport screening individuals for COVID-19.

Other agencies are beginning to adopt the CRF’s methods for training dogs to detect COVID-19. Recently, with the help of the CRF, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts started to put two young labradors appointed Duke and Huntah to work on detecting COVID-19. These two dogs are also sniff for COVID-19 at nearby Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District facilities.

Next steps in detecting COVID-19

Now that we know dogs can be trained to detect COVID-19, our team hopes to identify the exact volatile organic compounds – the biomarkers – that they detect. To do this, we continue to analyze positive COVID-19 masks and negative COVID-19 masks in the laboratory.

A large black and tan dog sitting and staring at his master outside a Florida resort.
Cobra, one of the dogs trained in a Florida International University study to detect COVID-19 biomarkers, prepares to screen guests ahead of the Food and Wine Festival in Miami in May 2021. Julian Mendel/Florida International University, CC BY-ND

Determining which biomarkers are linked to COVID-19 will help develop materials and training aids to teach other dogs how to detect the disease.

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It may also contribute to the development of COVID-19 sensors for use in odor detection devices – which could then join rapid tests and sniffer dogs like One Betta, Hubble, Mac and Cobra to help bring the pandemic under control.

The conversation

Kenneth G. FurtonProfessor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida International University; Julien Mendelresearch assistant professor in forensic research, Florida International Universityand Kelvin J. Frank Jr.Professor of Forensic Science / Postdoctoral Research Associate, Florida International University

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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