Can dogs detect COVID-19? University of Pennsylvania launches training program

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine has launched a pilot training program to research if dogs would be able to detect the coronavirus in people.

It could possibly lead to wider screening options in places with large crowds, such as airports, according to researchers.

"Just as we see the TSA dogs in the airport screening people as they walk by for explosives, it would be that kind of a concept," said Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, professor of Working Dog Sciences and Sports Medicine and director of Penn Vet's Working Dog Center.

Otto said it's all about the dogs accurately learning the "odor" of the virus, and detecting it from a safe distance.

Otto is in charge of the study and said they're using scent detecting dogs for their pilot training program in hopes that the dogs will learn how to tell the difference between COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative patients.

Researchers said it could also be a big deal for detecting people who aren't showing any symptoms.

"Scent detection dogs can accurately detect low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, associated with various diseases such as ovarian cancer, bacterial infections, and nasal tumors. These VOCs are present in human blood, saliva, urine or breath," said Otto.
Otto added, "The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial. This study will harness the dog's extraordinary ability to support the nation's COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread."

Eight Labradors will undergo a process called "odor imprinting" for three weeks.

Otto hopes to know the result of the study by June before moving on to preliminary screenings of live humans.

The study is being funded in part by the new Penn Vet COVID-19 Research Innovation Fund.


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