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Why can dogs detect cases of COVID-19?

Dogs trained to detect cases of the coronavirus will be at the starting line of this year's AJC Peachtree Road Race

ATLANTA — It’s time to get nosy when it comes to COVID-19.

Like a bloodhound hunting a wanted criminal, man’s best friend is now tracking the illness that has dominated our lives.

At airports and sporting events like the AJC Peachtree Road Race, dogs are following their noses to detect COVID-19.

Let’s explore why these amazing animals can do that.

RELATED: AJC Peachtree Road Race to use COVID-detecting dogs

Research has shown that COVID has its own distinct smell. The virus alters the volatile organic compounds that we emit.

“It’s often emitted through either sweat or saliva,” said Dr. Jerry Klein of the American Kennel Club. “Once it evaporates it remains on clothing.”

We can’t smell it, but dogs can. Humans have about five million scent detectors in our nasal passage. According to Dr. Klein, dogs have about 300 million.

“They can’t see as well as we can, but they can certainly smell better than we can,” he said.

Their sensitive noses are bombarded by a variety of smells day and night. Special training is required to help them identify the smell of COVID-19.

In at least one case, trainers used sweat samples from COVID patients. The animals involved were rewarded when they reacted to that particular smell.

“They don’t know what it is that they’re checking out. They’re just rewarded when they find it," Dr. Klein said. "Certain lines of dogs or certain types of dogs are very good at doing these types of jobs."

Typically a second test is used if the dog reacts to an actual case of COVID-19. That’s what will happen at Peachtree: A reaction from a pup will lead to a rapid test prior to the race.

Overall, animals trained to detect COVID-19 have been right roughly 90% of the time.