The voluntary canine screening delivers results within 10 seconds

By Claudia Harmata
September 24, 2020 12:55 PM
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Credit: ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty

Finland is deploying four coronavirus-sniffing dogs to begin screening travelers passing through the Helsinki Airport.

For the last few months, researchers at the University of Helsinki have been training dogs to sniff out COVID-19 in people, teaching them to make a specific sound as soon as they smell a positive sample.

"It’s very promising," Anna Hielm-Björkman, who is overseeing the trial, told The Guardian. "If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places."

After international passengers arrive at Helsinki Airport and collect their luggage, they are invited to take part in the voluntary canine screening by wiping their necks to collect a sweat sample.

Participants are then asked to leave the wipe in a container and a dog trainer helps one of the sniffer dogs get to work. According to The Washington Post, the pups deliver results within 10 seconds.

If the dog indicates that it has detected the virus, the passenger is asked to take a free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test using a nasal swab for additional verification.

Covid-sniffing dogs
| Credit: ANTTI AIMO-KOIVISTO/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty

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Scientists aren't sure yet what exactly the dogs smell when they detect the virus. "We know how dogs detect it — by smell — but we have no clue what they detect yet," Hielm-Björkman told The New York Times. "If we find this out, we can train thousands of dogs across the world."

A French study published in June suggests that there was "very high evidence" that the sweat odor of coronavirus-positive people is different to that of people who did not have the virus, and that dogs can detect that difference.

Finland's trial comes just a couple of months after Dubai health officials initiated their own canine detection program at airports, with initial results showing the dogs have a 90 percent accuracy rate, the Post reported.

Other countries may soon follow suit as researchers in Australia, Britain, France, Germany, and the United States are reportedly working on similar projects.

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