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Central Ohio COVID-19 detecting K9s changing how testing is done

Central Ohio-based K9s, which were used to detect abnormalities in agriculture, are now being trained to sniff out COVID-19.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A group of central Ohio-based K9s, which were used to detect abnormalities in agriculture, are now being trained to sniff out COVID-19.

Bio Detection K9 was formed 10 years ago in Alabama. It was recently bought by Wade Morrell who brought the dogs to Columbus where they are being trained to search for the virus.

Morrell said the idea came after research was done by doctors determining a dog’s ability to sniff out human host diseases.

In 2018, the dogs began sniffing for West Nile Virus but when the pandemic hit, Morrell said that took precedence.

“We take the COVID virus, extract the protein from it, remove the RNA so it’s not contagious and turn it into a liquid form so we could put it onto what we call a vehicle,” Morrell said.

The vehicle could be a ball or toy used to train the dogs to identify the scent. 

Extracting the proteins to get the scent is done by Virologist Dr. William Snyder. Snyder works remotely, but Morrell said he helps to test the dog’s accuracy, which is 98% for both the COVID-19 virus and Delta variant.

Right now, the dogs are being used to help keep those in the entertainment industry safe. 

Country musician Eric Church is using the dogs to keep a COVID-free bubble for his staff touring with him. Other musicians like Metallica and 21 Pilots are also taking advantage of the service.

“There are about 100 employees and to search those 100 employees it would take about five minutes. It takes longer to line everybody up and take their masks off than it does having the dogs go down the line and search them,” Morrell said.

Testing is done by having participants line up four to six feet apart and removing a mask they’ve worn for about 10 minutes. The dogs then go down the line sniffing the masks and will stop and sit to indicate a COVID-19 positive participant.

“Because you have such a concentrated area of odor, there’s a higher probability the dogs will find it [in the mask],” Morrell said.

Training for the dogs to detect COVID-19 looks the same as training them for narcotics and explosives. It takes about three to four months for a dog to be operational and identify the scent on humans.

“For dogs, it’s actually more intuitive for them to detect biology versus a foreign substance that we train them like narcotics or something in nature. Dogs rely on their nose to detect different things in other animals from a pack standpoint, they would weed out the sick or the weak so that’s a very natural thing for a dog to do,” Director of Training at Bio Detection K9 Shawn Reed said.

Bio Detection K9 is the only commercial business of its kind in the world offering this service for COVID-19 and the Delta variant. They are starting to work on getting the Omicron variant so the dogs will be able to identify that variant soon.

Countries across the world have contacted Bio Detection K9 asking about training dogs to provide this service for other programs.

“We are absolutely into doing that,” Morrell said. 

You can find more information about the service on the Bio Detection K9 website.

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