In a recent article, Finland has recently launched a pilot program involving coronavirus-sniffing dogs at Helsinki Airport, in the hopes that dogs can play a key role in screening for the virus.
The voluntary canine tests will deliver results within 10 seconds and require less than a minute of travelers’ time, said Anna Hielm-Björkman, a researcher at the University of Helsinki who is using the trial to gather data.
Researchers in other countries, including the United States and the United Arab Emirates, are also studying canine coronavirus tests. However, the Finnish trial is among the largest in scale and farthest along.
Changes in health can affect the way people smell, researchers say. Dogs have long been valued for their ability to sniff for drugs and bombs, and have also proved able to detect cancers, infections and other health problems.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki this year found promising indications that dogs can detect the virus. Scientists say only large-scale trials, such as this one, can demonstrate just how effective the method will be in practice.
The dogs to be deployed in Helsinki will sniff sweat samples and will not come into contact with travelers. People who agree to the test will swab their own necks to produce a sample, to submit through an opening in a wall, said Hielm-Björkman.
Regardless of whether they test positive, they will be urged to take a standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test, so that researchers can monitor the dogs’ accuracy. All tests are free for travelers arriving at the airport.
Hielm-Björkman added the dogs may, according to preliminary research, be better at spotting coronavirus infections than PCR and antibody tests. They “can also find [people] that are not yet PCR positive but will become PCR positive within a week,” she said.
Out of the 16 dogs trained, four are ready to work. Six others are still in training, with another six found to be unsuitable for a noisy airport environment.
Experts have warned that canine tests, however effective, can be difficult to scale. Training is time-consuming and expensive. Even so, researchers are optimistic that it will come to play a role, even if it cannot alleviate the demands on the world’s overstrained testing systems.
You can view a video of these dogs here.
*Photo credit: Washington Post.