FIU researchers training dogs to detect COVID-19 by smell

WEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - Highly trained dogs are doing their part in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to researchers at Florida International University and Baptist Health South Florida.

7News cameras captured one of the canines inside a classroom, Friday.

“We’re looking for any evidence of COVID samples on any surfaces,” said the dog’s trainer.

FIU’s International Forensic Research Institute is using the dogs to help make things safer this spring on campus.

Researchers said the dogs’ noses know the smell of COVID-19. When they detect it, they sit next to the source of the smell.

“An alert. Of course, this is a game for her, and it’s a positive, fun game, so she gets her reward,” said the trainer as she gave the dog a treat. “Yes! Good girl.”

Four dogs are in training, including two rescues, Hubble and Mac.

“Bigger dogs can sniff up higher on surfaces. The smaller dogs can get under chairs and tables and things like that,” said DeEtta Mills, the director of the research institute.

Researchers are using decades of experience researching and identifying odors to train the dogs.

The university is partnering with Baptist Health South Florida to collect the scent of COVID.

“From patients, to include gowns, masks and other items that were worn or used by the individual or by our members,” said Luis Collado with Baptist Health’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team.

Those items are used to create training samples without an active virus. They’re placed in high traffic areas, giving the dogs plenty of practice before their official work begins and adding another layer of protection in the sanitation process at FIU.

Researchers said this is just the beginning.

“We’ve been approached by the governor’s office,” said Mills.

The dogs are set to sweep the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee next week, and there’s also talk of putting them to work in Miami-Dade County’s public schools.

“It will be very exciting if we can scale up to that and try to keep the community safe,” said Mills.

The more the dogs practice, the more effective they will be. Experts said, their COVID sniffing accuracy will exceed 90% by the time their training is done.

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