Florida International University researchers have trained dogs to detect the COVID-19 virus, CBS Miami reports. The dogs will be working on campus this spring as part of the effort to control the virus' spread.
They've also been invited to sweep the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee.
According to FIU Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth Furton, the school's canines are taking a different approach than the ones being used to screen fans at games of the NBA's Miami Heat.
"Our dogs are actually being used to search surfaces. So we're looking for where people have been, you know, mostly students had been sitting in seats," he explained. "The dogs alert gives an extra layer of protection (so) we can do decontamination. Whereas at the Heat, they're actually screening people before they come into the arena."
Furton said the dogs have been found to be over 90% reliable, with a very low false positives rate.
"In many respects, they're even more reliable than then some of the laboratory tests that we currently have," he said.
The training for these dogs, Furton said, is very similar to that of drug and bomb detection canines.
He said seasoned dogs only take a few weeks to train, while newer dogs can take two to three months.
The type of breed isn't particularly important, but FIU does look for dogs that have high energy.
The FIU researchers haven't begun training the dogs on the new COVID variants that have popped up. But Furton said he thinks the dogs will be able to sniff those out as well.
"We expect that they will alert to the different variants because the odors are likely to be very similar. But that's something we're continuing to work on," Furton said. "We're training the dogs on actually face coverings that were from patients at Baptist Health South Florida, which is our partner. We decontaminate or inactivate the virus so that it's safe to use as a training aid for the dogs."