These Manatee County pups have a nose for COVID-19

A Manatee County company is training dogs to sniff out COVID-19. The Myakka City training facility is the home of BioScent.

“In this part of the kennel we have some of our breeders and then we also have some of our working dogs,” explained Heather Junqueira. “Right now we have 20 dogs that are in training."

She is putting the beagle’s super-sensitive snouts to work.

According to Junqueira, Canines can use their powerful sense of smell to detect bombs, drugs, and even diseases like cancer.

“It’s really amazing; they say dogs can smell a drop of perfume in an Olympic sized pool."

Since March, this group has been training to sniff out coronavirus. It started with some research, a pilot study using COVID-19 positive nasal testing swabs that no longer have a live virus.

“We did a double-blind study and tested the dog’s accuracy rate on those,” Heather said. “And they were hitting at a 98% accuracy rate.”

The dogs do not smell the actual virus; they are picking up the body’s reaction to being infected with COVID-19 that has a distinct scent.

The beagles are now training to detect coronavirus in human sweat.

“People use 4x4 gauze pads under their arms, and then they go into double zip-lock bag and come into us,” said Heather.

Then the learning starts. The gauze with sweat from a COVID-positive patient is placed in a canister. Other canisters in the room are filled with potentially confusing alternatives. The hounds first smell the air, then sit down indicating they found the positive sample.

“It’s a very strong signature odor and they were able to pick it up really easily,” Heather said.

Multiple studies have been done showing dogs can indeed be trained to find COVID-19 by scent, and a few international airports already have dogs on duty screening passengers.

BioScent’s research is now being funded by 27 Health. The goal is to use the beagles to flag folks who are infected with coronavirus in large crowds like concerts and sporting events.

“They’re not gonna go if they’re sick, and so they might be going and they’re asymptomatic and they don’t know it,” said Heather. “Those are the people that we need to train the dogs to be able to pick out.”

Heather hopes BioScent’s first group of pups will be ready to do the important work by the first of the year.