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Researchers Experiment To See If Dogs Can Detect COVID-19

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So coronavirus tests are still hard to come by in most states. But help might be a sniff away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good girl. Awesome.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That sniffing was Moxie. She's a Labrador retriever. And she's being trained to smell for COVID-19.

CYNTHIA OTTO: Diabetes, malaria, cancer - lots of different diseases have different odors.

KING: Cynthia Otto is leading a study at the University of Pennsylvania to see if dogs can detect the virus in humans.

OTTO: We have eight dogs that are in training. All of the dogs are just now learning how to ignore odors that might be irrelevant. The next step is going to be determining, is there a specific odor associated with COVID-19?

GREENE: And so if all goes according to plan here, a single dog could potentially screen hundreds of people every hour.

OTTO: Would it be at the airport or at the train station? Or would it be at a business that we're, you know, screening people before we allow them in - or a hospital.

GREENE: Otto says it'll take several more months before the dogs will be ready to go. So don't expect a lab test from a Labrador anytime super soon. But there are other options out there on the horizon.

OTTO: Yes. We've got the long process. But the short-term return on this - we have colleagues who've been developing electronic sensing devices or an electronic nose. So that could actually advance things quicker.

KING: An electronic nose? That has everyone excited. And excitement means treats.

OTTO: We are big believers in positive reinforcement. And so we anticipate a big dog treat for us if this actually works (panting, laughter).

GREENE: Sounds like a win-win to me there.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "KELVINATOR, KELVINATOR" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.