A state-funded trial involving four COVID-19 sniffer dogs began at Helsinki Airport. The scheme, launched in association with researchers from the University of Helsinki, aims to provide a cheap, fast and effective alternative method of testing people for the virus.
A dog can detect 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.
After collecting their luggage, arriving international passengers are asked to dab their skin with a wipe. In a separate booth, the beaker containing the wipe is then placed next to others containing different control 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 standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to verify the dog’s verdict.
In the university’s preliminary tests, dogs were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy. Dogs can identify COVID-19 from a much smaller molecular sample than PCR tests, needing only 10-100 molecules to detect the presence of the virus compared with the 18 minutes needed by laboratory equipment.
There is no evidence that the dogs can transmit the virus to people or other animals.
Wise Nose, a Finnish organisation that specialises in training animals in scent detection, is training a total of 16 dogs for the project, 10 of which are eventually expected to be able to work at the airport.