Hawaii canines being trained to sniff out the scent of coronavirus

Updated: Dec. 1, 2020 at 4:21 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Assistance Dogs of Hawaii’s Maui campus, four canines are preparing for pandemic work.

The dogs — Sadie, Sam, Tess and Yuki — will be trained to sniff out the scent of coronavirus.

“They have such an amazing sense of smell. It’s over 100,000 times stronger than ours,” said Maureen Maurer, ADH’s executive director.

Maurer and her team will train the super sniffers to block out background smells and zero in on COVID.

Respiratory illnesses give off a distinctive odor.

“We have done other research studies on dogs detecting bacterial infections in humans. They had an accuracy rate of close to 99%,” Maurer said.

The dogs will train by smelling clothing worn by coronavirus patients.

The Queen’s Medical Center is looking for volunteers who have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to participate in the detection study,

“We send that person a mask, t-shirt, wrist band and socks and we ask them to wear it for 12 hours. Then we collect the clothing and submit the samples to Assistance Dogs of Hawaii,” said Dr. Whitney Limm, Queen’s Health Systems chief physician executive.

Queen’s needs about 100 participants.

To register call the Canine COVID-19 Detection Study hotline at 691-8761.

“We’ll be using those samples to teach the dogs the target scent,” Maurer said.

Once training and testing are done the plan is to put the dogs in the field as detection agents at hospitals, schools, and in other places that need extra layers of COVID screening.

“A non-invasive way to identify somebody who is positive has great implications for public safety,” Limm said.

Assistance Dogs of Hawaii is a non-profit. If you can help with monetary donations for the study and ADH’s other canine training go to assistancedogshawaii.org.

Maurer expects to begin the COVID-19 training in a week or two.

“We are really excited that this may help reduce the spread of the infection in Hawaii,” she said.

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