Can dogs sniff out coronavirus? Scientists studying whether canines can be trained

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Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have set out to determine if Labrador retrievers can be trained to sniff out the novel coronavirus in an effort to help prevent another outbreak in the future.

Labrador retrievers are the ideal breed of dog for the study due to their powerful noses. Eight canines were chosen to participate in the project, The Washington Post reported.

The university hopes the animals can be used as “canine surveillance” units to screen people at airports, hospitals and other public settings.

The ability of dogs to detect drugs, explosives and other diseases has inspired confidence among researchers that canines could be trained to detect the coronavirus as well.

Director of the Working Dog Center at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine Cynthia M. Otto is leading the project and told The Post that dogs can detect subtle differences in patient samples.

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Labrador at the park

Labrador at the park

“We don’t know that this will be the odor of the virus, per se, or the response to the virus, or a combination,” Otto said “But the dogs don’t care what the odor is. … What they learn is that there’s something different about this sample than there is about that sample.”

She added that the hardest part will be training the dogs to recognize the virus while it is inside of a human.

“That’s going to be the next proof of concept: Can we train them to identify it when a person has it and that person’s moving? Or even standing still?” Otto explained.

This isn't the first study or research project to target dogs as a screening tool for COVID-19.

CEO and co-founder of the British charity Medical Detection Dogs Dr. Claire Guest told The Daily Mirror that she believes canines can be trained to detect the coronavirus, given their ability to sniff out other diseases like cancer.

"When resources and testing kits are low, hundreds of people can't be tested in one go," Guest said. "But the dogs can screen up to 750 people really quickly. By identifying those who need to be tested and self-isolate, they can stop the spread."

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In March, Medical Detection Dogs said it would partner with Durham University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on a medical trial.

The initial trial would study six dogs as they sniff coronavirus patients' face masks, to determine if the disease has a specific smell.

As of Wednesday, there were over 1 million confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. and nearly 60,000 deaths.

Fox News' Chris Ciaccia contributed this report