Miami International is piloting a program using dogs to detect COVID-19, the first such trial at a US airport. The specially trained dogs will alert handlers to the scent of the virus on individuals passing through an employee security checkpoint.
During the 30-day trial, Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd, will test their ability to sniff out volatile organic compounds which a person emits as the result of metabolic changes which the COVID-19 infection causes.
The Miami program is similar to a trial conducted last year at Helsinki Airport in Finland. In that test, passengers did not come in direct contact with the dog. Instead, the individuals swiped their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup, which is then passed to the dog who is in a separate booth. If the result is positive, the passenger will be directed to a health information point at the airport for further screening.
Detecting COVID-19 is said to be easy for dogs. Following “hundreds of training sessions,” detector dogs are able to achieve accuracy rates from 96 to 99 percent for detecting COVID-19 in published peer-reviewed, double-blind trials, according to a statement from Miami Airport.
“Numerous studies have demonstrated that detector dogs are one of the most reliable tools available to identify substances based on the odors they emit,” the statement read.
The dogs can also identify the virus days before the symptoms are present, something that laboratory tests fail to do. In addition, dogs are also able to identify COVID-19 from a much smaller sample than the PCR tests used by health care professionals; a dog only needs 10-100 molecules to identify the virus, whereas test equipment requires 18 million.