Dogs sniffing COVID-19 in Hampton Roads could one day help stop the spread


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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – James Overton with American K-9 ban trains dogs to detect explosives, drugs, and bed bugs.

But the COVID-19 virus? Apparently they can do that too.

“I was very skeptical,” he said. Then the dogs proved he was wrong.

10 On Your Side attended a training session at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth. In a large room he had set up seven buckets with hoses attached. Each of the tubes contained a sample taken from a patient’s cheek swab. Six were COVID-19 negative and one was positive.

Overton and his training partner brought the dogs one by one and let their snoopers go to work.

“What the dogs are looking for is what they call a ‘volatile organic compound’, VOC, that’s the smell of everything in the world and we know the viruses don’t have much molecular weight behind them, so there is a very low one Amount of VOC. That was our concern when we looked at it, ”Overton said.

Miles, a 3 year old chocolate lab, started sniffing and went straight to the positive sample. He did it over and over again.

There are three dogs in the program. You’ve been training for about five months, and according to Overton, they’re about 90% accurate right now.

“It was really interesting to watch,” said Jan Phillips, vice president of nursing at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate at Newport News, one of the hospitals providing the samples. Through a partnership with the Eastern Virginia Healthcare Coalition, trainers will also receive samples from other Bon Secours and Sentara hospitals.

“I’ve seen the dogs a couple of times and they are spot on,” said Phillips. She added that her patients are happy to volunteer samples. “If something good can come of this illness [they’re] suffer with, then [they] want to help. “

The plan is to use the dogs in sports stadiums, concerts, airports and cruise ships – at any major public event where COVID-19 could spread. People wiped their cheeks, maybe 10 at a time, and then the dogs could go to work.

When the dog becomes aware of COVID-19, the person will undergo a PCR-COVID-19 test for confirmation.

Its a lot to do. The study will go into a double-blind phase with external experts in both medical and dog training over the next few weeks.

Overton told WAVY that if all goes according to plan, you could see the dogs before your next flight or concert in the next few months.

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