The power of a dog’s nose could be the latest COVID-19 detection tool for travelers.
Miami International Airport is two weeks into a pilot program using two COVID-19 detecting canines to screen American Airline employees for the virus at a security checkpoint, according to airport officials in a news release Thursday.
In an airport first, Miami has partnered with the Global Forensic and Justice Center at Florida International University and American Airlines to screen employees. If successful, it may move to busier parts of the airport.
“Dogs could be more sensitive than some of our instruments and detect the virus sooner,” Kenneth Furton, provost at Florida International University and scent-detection scholar, told USA TODAY.
Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd, have already made two possible alerts. One employee was unable to be tested and the second employee had a negative PCR test, but had recently gotten over the virus, according to Furton.
The dogs have a 96% to 99% detection rate and were quick learners, which Furton credits with previous training they received to detect laurel wilt, a fungus that can kill certain trees.
“If you’re training a brand new dog, it can take two or three months,” Furton said. “It only took two or three days for these dogs and three weeks for them to become proficient.”
The dogs are able to detect a scent from COVID-19 excreted through a person’s breath and sweat after the virus causes metabolic changes in a person, according to a news release from the airport.
Cobra and One Betta were previously deployed to Florida Gov. Ron Desantis emergency operation center and were searching for surfaces contaminated with the virus. They were also used at the South Beach Food and Wine festival searching for people possibly infected with COVID-19.
Furton said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has come down to watch the dogs in action.
“There’s talk about the program moving to other airports, but nothing is in the works yet,” he said.
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