Dogs arrived at Finland’s Helsinki Airport on Tuesday for their first day of work checking travelers for Covid-19 as part of a new pilot program which—if it’s as successful as preliminary research suggests—could present a widely employable method of coronavirus detection.
Multiple studies have indicated that trained dogs are able to successfully discriminate between infected and non-infected human saliva or urine samples, with German researchers finding dogs could determine Covid-19 with 94% accuracy within a week of training.
The Helsinki Airport is now putting these findings to the test through a trial run with 16 canines who will deliver results within 10 seconds, Anna Hielm-Björkman, a researcher at the University of Helsinki who is gathering data on the trial, told The Washington Post.
Travelers who agree to the screening will swab their own necks to produce a sweat sample which will be passed to dogs through an opening in a wall in a process that should take less than one minute.
Those checked by the dogs will then be encouraged to take a standard test to verify the accuracy of the determination.
The dogs were trained by Wise Nose, a Finnish agency that specializes in smell detection, and per a report from The Independent, at least one dog was able to learn to identify the smell in just seven minutes.
Hielm-Björkman pointed out that, according to preliminary tests, the dogs may be more effective at detecting Covid-19 than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antibody tests, and are able to detect when a person will become PCR positive a week before the test can.
Helsinki Airport director Ulla Lettijeff called the pilot program “unique” and a “world first.” “No other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against Covid-19,” Lettijeff told The Independent. “This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating Covid-19.”
Finland is not the only country testing the capabilities of dogs for Covid-19 detection. The United States, Germany and the United Arab Emirates are also conducting their own research. The initial findings from a program similar to Finland’s in Dubai earlier this summer, though on a smaller scale, found dogs were able to identify the sweat samples of air travelers with 91% accuracy. Larger-scale trials, like the one in Finland, will help determine whether this method could have wide-usage going forward.
Dogs have previously been used to detect other types of diseases, including cancers, malaria, and bacterial and viral infections.
“The Finnish COVID dogs’ nose knows!” (University of Helsinki)