In a new pilot program launched this past Tuesday at Finland’s Helsinki Airport, trained dogs are being used to detect if passengers are infected with the Covid-19 virus. According to a press release from the Finnish airport operator Finavia, these animals have been specifically trained to smell the coronavirus the same way that certain canines have the ability to smell cancer in individuals.
In the release it was stated that the program was completely voluntary but encouraged for international travelers coming into Finland. If a passenger chooses to participate, they will be asked to swipe their skin using a “test wipe” that workers will then put into a cup and give to the dogs. Individuals never make contact with the dogs themselves, this way if individuals who have a canine allergy want to participate they still have the ability to.
The release showed a demonstrative photo of a passenger wiping the test cloth on the inside of their wrist but Anna Hielm-Björkman, a University of Helsinki researcher, claims that sweat samples will also be taken from rubbing the cloth on the back of the neck, where sweat is more likely to accumulate.
“It’s a very promising method. Dogs are obviously very good at sniffing so if it works, it will be a good screening method for other places around the world.”
The canine companions only need 10 seconds to sniff the sample before they’re able to acknowledge if they smell Covid-19 or not. They indicate the results of the test by either laying down, paw scratching, or barking if they smell the virus, otherwise they’ll just act as if they smelt a random cloth they have no interest in.
The whole process is meant to be quick and easy for passengers. The report claims that the entire ordeal should only take one minute, and individuals who “test positive” based on the dog’s reaction will also be asked to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to double check the results. The PCR tests are essentially the cotton swab tests that have been occurring at testing locations across the world for the past six months.
“Dogs are also able to identify Covid-19 from a much smaller sample than the PCR tests. The difference is massive, as a dog only needs 10 to 100 molecules to identify the virus, whereas test equipment requires 18,000,000.”
The University of Helsinki initially announced their interest in using dogs to identify the coronavirus back in May, after preliminary tests showed that dogs could have the ability to identify it. Hielm-Björkman claims that her team has “solid experience in training disease-related, scent-detection dogs,” so it was amazing to see them identify a completely new virus.
The four dogs currently deployed at the Helsinki Airport are named Miina, Kossi, ET, and Valo, all of which were trained by the company Wise Nose. These dogs have been trained for their whole lives to identify various diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and there are currently 10 others being trained to identify Covid-19 specifically. Researchers in the US have been following Finland’s suit and have also begun training scent-detecting canines to identify the virus. The Dubai International Airport was the first in the world to deploy dogs for smelling Covid-19, and after a month they reported a 92% accuracy rate.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.