Manatee County nonprofit trains dogs to detect COVID-19

Christel Deskins

The dogs are training to smell the virus using COVID-positive nasal swabs. MYAKKA CITY, Fla. — BioScent, a Manatee County nonprofit, is training dogs to sniff out COVID-19. The founder of the Myakka City-based organization, Heather Junqueira, says she’s been working to find out whether dogs could be our next […]

The dogs are training to smell the virus using COVID-positive nasal swabs.

MYAKKA CITY, Fla. — BioScent, a Manatee County nonprofit, is training dogs to sniff out COVID-19.

The founder of the Myakka City-based organization, Heather Junqueira, says she’s been working to find out whether dogs could be our next tool for detecting the coronavirus.

“My background with dogs is training dogs to detect cancer,” Junqueira said. “So, I already know that they can detect different biological processes that are going on in the body.”

So, she thought, why not COVID too?

We know most dogs have a great sense of smell, but you’re probably wondering what kind of dog could possibly be capable of this? Junqueira says they are using beagles and beagle-basset hound mixes because their sense of smell is more than 40 times better than humans.

“Beagles have the third most olfactory nerves. First is a bloodhound, and then you have the basset hound and then the beagle,” Junqueira said.

The dogs are training to smell the virus using COVID-positive nasal swabs and the results are promising. Junqueira says they are seeing a 98 percent accuracy rate in detection.

“You can train dogs to detect the symptomatic, but we need to train them to detect the non-symptomatic, so that’s one of the key things that we are working on is making sure that they are able to detect that virus at very very small loads so we pick out those non-symptomatic people,” Junqueira said.

Now, the dogs are moving on from nasal swabs, to human sweat, so they can be used to sniff out the virus in public places.

“We are still in the training phase with the sweat, but the dogs are definitely able to pick up on it, so it should be very easy to translate that to people,” Junqueira said.

She says the goal is to be able to use these trained dogs in schools, airports and stadium lines to sniff out the virus quickly and hopefully stop the spread.

“One of the complications in training dogs to detect and indicate directly on people is that you need another type of verification system,” Junqueira said.

RELATED: Dogs able to sniff out COVID-19 with high accuracy in preliminary study

That’s why she’s partnered with 27 Health, which is testing a device that can immediately detect the virus through a saliva test. The machine is called Virolens.

“The machine is really incredible. It works with microscopes,” Junqueira said. “So you take a swab from the base of the tongue, you put it into a cartridge, it goes into the machine and within 20 seconds you have a positive or negative result for COVID.”

The hope is to have these dogs and this device ready to go by January.

“Say we were at a large stadium and we were screening people going into a concert or into a sporting event, we would walk the line with the dogs and then pull out anyone that they indicated on,” Junqueira said. “The next thing we need is a rapid test that’s highly accurate to verify the results.”

That’s where Virolens comes in. It’s a rapid test that Junqueira says has shown 98 percent accuracy in telling a person if they have COVID within seconds.

RELATED: Dogs are being trained to smell COVID-19 on people

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