“COVID-19 produces unique odor chemicals and also causes metabolic changes in those infected with the virus, resulting in odors that dogs can detect,” said IFRI Director DeEtta Mills.
For the current study, IFRI is collaborating with the Environmental Health & Safety Department at Baptist Health South Florida, which provided the face coverings worn by individuals who tested positive and negative for COVID-19. Ultraviolet C light is used to inactivate the virus, making the masks safe to handle without altering the COVID-19 odors.
The canine team consists of one Belgian Malinois, a Dutch Shepherd and two small rescue dogs trained to detect COVID-19 odors, first in a lab and now in larger spaces, including auditoriums, computer labs, and libraries. The canine’s size difference helps detect the virus in hard-to-reach spaces such as under and between chairs.
High proficiency in detection comes with practice, and the dogs can achieve greater than 90 percent accuracy and low false positives after completing the final stages of training, which is ongoing.