COVID-19-sniffing dogs are already working at the airport in Helsinki

Dogs have incredibly sensitive noses. In fact, they are so sensitive that dogs can detect certain diseases just by smelling people. Now in the midst of the global pandemic four dogs are working at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport trying to detect people with COVID-19. Tests conducted at the University of Helsinki show that dogs can detect SARS-CoV-2 virus very quickly and efficiently.

Dogs are incredibly capable of detecting the unique smell of COVID-19 – their training is fairly quick. Image credit: Austin Kirk via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

In the future dogs will be sniffing humans to see whether they have or do not have COVID-19. Because the official status of corona dogs is still being clarified, for now dogs are sniffing samples instead of humans directly. During this test at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport all passengers and airport personnel can seek to be tested, but the process will be improved once the use of official coronavirus testing with service dogs is permitted by law.

There is so much to think about when employing dogs for such an important job. First of all, some people may be allergic to dogs, which is one of the reasons why now a dog will smell only samples swiped from the skin and not the people directly. Dogs themselves are all different and have to be prepared for working in noisy, busy airports. Some dogs adapt to working in such environments pretty quickly, others are better suited to working in quiet laboratories.

Meanwhile the procedure is quite simple. A person steps into the sampling station and takes a skin swipe of himself or herself according to instructions.  Personal information is not collected at the sampling station. Dogs and its trainer are waiting behind a wall. Once the dog assesses the sample, the passenger is free to go if the results are negative or is directed to the Helsinki University Hospital’s health information station if coronavirus is detected. Testing dogs cannot get COVID-19 – dogs are pretty much immune to this disease.

Studies have shown that dogs are able to find COVID-19-positive patients with about 94-100% accuracy. Furthermore, they can identify the coronavirus in humans earlier than laboratory tests can, even if there are no symptoms yet. But the best thing is that they work very quickly – it only takes a couple of minutes for a dog to check several people, while it may take hours in lab testing.

For now, because laws are not permitting to use dogs in this way, this is all just a big experiment. However, scientists are hopeful that this method could be introduced soon, particularly in very busy areas, such as airports. This would help testing many people in the shortest amount of time possible, while also helping people to remain safe. COVID-19 detecting dogs only need several months of training, which would help deploying them in many different locations very quickly.


Source: University of Helsinki

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