Dogs may be able to detect COVID-19 through smell

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PHILADELPHIA, Penn. (WKRG) — Could dogs be frontline screeners in the fight against coronavirus? A research project is underway at the Penn Veterinary School in Philadelphia to determine just that.

Service dogs have already been useful to people with diabetes and epilepsy. Now, using their noses, research dogs at Penn Vets Working Dog Center are able to detect disease. The next research project will determine if dogs can detect COVID-19 by smelling it.

“I think the dogs can make a huge difference,” said Cynthia Otto, Director of the Working Dog Center, Penn Veterinary Medicine. “We know that all diseases seem to have a unique odor and we know that viruses themselves actually have a unique odor.”

Otto says eight dogs will work with samples from COVID patients at Penn and to determine if they’re able to detect the virus.

“We look at this in a way that is going to be scientific, safe for the dogs and safe for the people involved,” said Otto. “It will be similar to what happens at the airport when the dogs are sniffing for explosives.”

If the COVID-19 research pans out, preliminary canine screenings of people could start in July.

Otto said, “If the dogs can do the in-person testing, that’s just gonna totally change how we’re able to respond to our need for social distancing and identifying people who might be carriers who we weren’t’ otherwise identifying.”

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