As part of its ongoing effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Miami International Airport (MIA) is now getting help from some furry new friends: detector dogs specially trained with protocols created by the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC) at Florida International University (FIU).
Thanks to a resolution sponsored by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Kionne L. McGhee and approved by the Board of County Commissioners in March 2021, the Miami-Dade Aviation Department is partnering with the GFJC at FIU and American Airlines to host a 30-day COVID-19 detector dog pilot program at MIA, making it the first U.S. airport to test COVID-sniffing canines. The dogs are deployed at an employee security checkpoint.
Detector dogs have the potential for immediate detection and response to the virus in public spaces like airports. After hundreds of training sessions at FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami this year, the detector dogs achieved accuracy rates from 96 to 99 percent for detecting COVID-19 in published peer-reviewed, double-blind trials. After the pilot program ends in September, FIU will continue to work on the accuracy and specificity, which will assist in COVID variant detection, of the canine following scientifically validated methods.
The two dogs in the pilot program at MIA – Cobra (a Belgian Malinois) and One Betta (a Dutch Shepherd) – have been trained to alert to the scent of COVID-19. The virus causes metabolic changes in a person that result in the production of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 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.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that detector dogs are one of the most reliable tools available to identify substances based on the odors they emit. Previous studies include demonstrating that detector dogs can reliably detect persons that have diseases, such as diabetes, epilepsy, and certain cancers. Detector dogs have long been used by federal and local agencies at MIA to detect prohibited currency, drugs, explosives, and agriculture.