Earlier this year, there was some talk about COVID-19 sniffer dogs being trained to smell and detect the virus in people who weren’t yet showing symptoms. It sounds kind of far out, but it’s not: animals have been used to detect cancer for years. But the advantages of COVID-19 sniffer dogs are especially significant. Presently, even the fastest tests take a few hours to return results. They can also be expensive to carry out, especially in situations where large groups need regular retesting–like at schools or workplaces.
COVID-19 sniffer dogs don’t only present a cheaper option (you only need to train them once), they’re also much quicker. Researchers have reported that dogs can usually detect the virus within 10 seconds, meaning the whole screening process barely takes a minute. Now, if a dog does detect something, the individual needs to undergo a traditional test to confirm, but it means they can immediately start self-isolating and reduce community transmission.
The concept was so promising that several teams of researchers from around the globe (including Australia) have been training dogs and tracking their success. But one group in particular are at the stage where we can observe the plan in action: Helsinki airport has installed four COVID-19 sniffer dogs as part of a state-funded pilot scheme. And guys, it’s going great!
Currently international passengers arriving in Finland are being directed to dab their skin with a wipe that’s then presented to a dog trained to detect COVID-19 (along with some other control smells) to see if they pick anything up. If the dog does, they’ll give a sign (either yelping, pawing, or lying down) and the passenger is taken for a traditional test. So far, according to the University of Helsinki who are overseeing the trial, the dogs have been able to detect COVID-19 with nearly 100% accuracy.
Anna Hielm-Björkman, who is leading the project told the Guardian: “It’s very promising…If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places such as hospitals, care homes and at sporting and cultural events.” With such promising results, the project has already started training 16 more dogs.
For more on COVID-19 and dogs, check out: