Meet Buffy, a yellow Lab sniffing out COVID-19 at a Florida hospital

A yellow Labrador retriever named Buffy greets visitors at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota (Fla.) three days a week. With their permission, she sniffs their feet. If she lays down, she isn't just giving guests a warm welcome — she has possibly detected COVID-19 infection. 

About a year ago, Southeastern Guide Dogs CEO Titus Herman reached out to the hospital's CEO, Robert Meade, to study whether dogs can detect COVID-19 by smell, Monica Yadav, director of communications and community engagement for the hospital, told Becker's. The training facility was originally training dogs to use scent to detect stress hormones in military veterans who suffered from night terrors or panic attacks.

In December, the hospital sent Southeastern deactivated COVID-19 saliva samples from consenting emergency room patients who had the infection. The dogs were trained to detect signs of immune response changes caused by the body fighting the infection. Southeastern reported the dogs detected COVID-19 with 95 percent accuracy, an April 26 news release said. 

Early studies are emerging on dogs trained to detect COVID-19 in Europe, yet they are still unproven, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

After the study was conducted, Mr. Herman reached back out to Mr. Meade, asking if he would like one of the four dogs trained at his hospital, which he happily accepted, Ms. Yadav said.

Buffy detected COVID-19 in a hospital visitor after just one week, the hospital reports. A woman who entered the lobby was directed to the normal screening procedures, and a temperature check found the woman had a low-grade fever. She was asked if Buffy could give her a sniff. Buffy sniffed her feet and laid at them — signaling a potential positive COVID-19 infection. The woman was directed to the emergency room, where she tested positive for the virus.

"Buffy was able to detect the woman's COVID-19 within seconds, much faster than standard testing," Ms. Yadav said.

Buffy is not replacing other screening processes; she is being offered as an additional resource. Patients who Buffy has signaled may have the virus are offered free on-site testing or may leave the facility to seek testing at a facility of their choice.

A concern Ms. Yadav has heard is that Buffy could contract COVID-19 from the training process or through her work at the hospital. However, she said, the saliva samples are deactivated and there has not been evidence showing dogs can contract COVID-19 from sniffing the virus.

When Buffy is not working at the hospital, she lives with Mr. Meade and his family at their home.

To see Buffy training at the hospital, click here.


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