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Miami International says it's the first US airport to test COVID-19 detector dogs

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Posted at 10:51 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 17:18:51-04

MIAMI, Fla. — Miami International Airport (MIA) says it’s the first U.S. airport to test COVID-19-sniffing dogs through a new pilot program.

The Miami-Dade Aviation Department is partnering with the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC) at Florida International University (FIU) to host a 30-day COVID-19 detector dog pilot program at MIA.

Everyday travelers visiting the airport may not come in contact with the detector dogs, though. The airport says the canines are deployed at an employee security checkpoint.

There are two dogs in the pilot program at MIA – Cobra, a Belgian Malinois, and One Betta, a Dutch Shepherd. They’ve been trained to alert to the scent of COVID-19. MIA says the dogs have the potential to immediately detect and respond to the coronavirus in public spaces like airports.

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One Betta from the COVID-19 K-9 unit at Miami International Airport

“The virus causes metabolic changes in a person that result in the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” the airport explained. “The VOCs are excreted by a person’s breath and sweat, producing a scent that trained dogs can detect. The metabolic changes are common for all people, regardless of their individual scents. If a dog indicates an individual is carrying the odor of the virus, that person is directed to get a rapid COVID test.”

According to officials, the dogs have achieved accuracy rates from 96% to 99% for detecting COVID-19 in published, peer-reviewed, double-blind trials.

Once the pilot program ends in September, FIU will continue to work on the accuracy and specificity of the dogs following scientifically validated methods, which officials say will assist in COVID-19 variant detection.

In the past, detector dogs like these have successfully been able to detect people that have diseases, such as diabetes, epilepsy, and certain cancers. They’ve also been used to detect prohibited currency, drugs, explosives, and agriculture.