Four Covid-19 sniffer dogs have begun work at Helsinki airport in a state-funded pilot scheme that Finnish researchers hope will provide a cheap, fast and effective alternative method of testing people for the virus.
A dog is capable of detecting the presence of the coronavirus within 10 seconds and the entire process takes less than a minute to complete, according to Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki, who is overseeing the trial.
“It’s very promising,” said Hielm-Björkman. “If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places” such as hospitals, care homes and at sporting and cultural events.
After collecting their luggage, arriving international passengers are asked to dab their necks with a wipe. In a separate booth, the jar containing the wipe is then placed next to others containing different scents, and the dog starts sniffing.
If it indicates it has detected the virus – usually by yelping, pawing or lying down – the passenger is advised to take a free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test using a nasal swab to verify the dog’s verdict.
In the university’s preliminary tests, dogs – which have previously been used to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes – were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy, even days before before a patient developed symptoms.
Researchers in countries including Australia, France, Germany and Britain are reportedly working on similar projects but Finland is the first country in Europe to put dogs to work sniffing out the coronavirus.