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Man's Best Friend: Dogs Trained To Detect COVID-19 Coronavirus; 'They're Sniffing For People That Are Carriers'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - It's possible man's best friend can help us fight the coronavirus.

Through scent, dogs have long been used to help detect diseases, like cancer and Parkinson's. Now researchers and their dogs are getting closer to detecting COVID-19.

A dog named Miss M practices her sniff accuracy on what scientists call a "scent wheel." It's part of a program at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Pennsylvania that teaches dogs to smell for disease - possibly COVID-19.

"We know that all diseases seem to have a unique odor and we know that viruses themselves actually have a unique odor," said Cynthia Otto, the director of the Working Dog Center.

The jury is still out on whether COVID-19 has its own scent. That's what the dogs will help determine.


There are currently 10 learning how to search on test samples. Next week, when the real human COVID-19 samples arrive, the official training phase can begin.

"Look at this in a way that is going to be scientific, safe for the dogs and safe for the people involved," said Otto.

Though there's a lot we still don't know about COVID-19, Dr. Stephen Soloway, a rheumatologist, says the dogs should not be at risk.

"There's the canine strain, there's the feline strain, or human strains. The dog in this case would not be subjected to becoming ill with the human strain, nor would the human be susceptible to get ill," Dr. Soloway said.

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Once they pass the test phase, dogs would sniff a patient's biological sample -- like urine, saliva, even breath -- then ideally be able to determine if a person is positive or negative.

"The purpose is to try to get them to be able to identify ... where there's 10,000 people getting off lots of airplanes ... [have] these dogs kind of stationed around and rather than sniffing for only bombs, they're sniffing for people that are carriers," Dr. Soloway said.

The dogs have been training for just a few weeks now, so it's still early. If the research works out, the earliest canine screenings of people could start as soon as this summer.

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