Apart from the usual nasal swab test, travellers arriving at Helsinki Airport, Finland are offered a voluntary COVID-19 test that takes only 10 seconds, which will be done by dogs.
Several coronavirus-sniffing dogs have been deployed at the Finnish airport on Wednesday as part of a pilot programme that aims to detect infections using the sweat collected from travellers, Washington Post reported.
Once passengers have collected their luggage, they are invited to wipe their necks to collect sweat samples and submit the wipes in a box through an opening in a wall.
Behind the wall, a dog trainer puts the sample next to cans containing various scents, where a dog will get to work. Whether a person tests positive or not, they are still encouraged to take the standard chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test.
This will allow researchers to monitor the dog’s accuracy in detecting the symptoms, said Anna Hielm-Björkman, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, who is gathering data of the trial.
Researchers say that changes in health can affect the way people smell to dogs. Dogs have been valued for their ability to sniff out bombs and drugs, as well as proven able to detect cancers, malaria and other health problems.
It is also unlikely that the dogs will get infected with the virus and although there have been a few rare cases where canines tested positive, it doesn’t work the other way round. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said, “there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans.”
4 out of 16 dogs trained for this trial have started their job at the airport, while 6 more are in training. The rest were unable to work in a noisy environment.
In the last few months, researchers in countries like the United States and the United Arab Emirates have also been studying the effectiveness of using dogs to detect COVID-19, but Finland’s coronavirus-sniffing doggos are one of the largest in scale currently. In the same report by Washington Post, health officials in Dubai this summer began using dogs to analyse sweat samples from randomly selected air travellers, with more than 90 percent accuracy, according to initial results.
It has been proven that dogs can be trained to detect the virus, but what they actually smell is a different question. “We know how dogs detect it–by smell–but we have no clue what they detect, yet,” said Hielm-Björkman. “If we find this out, we can train thousands of dogs across the world,” she added.
However, experts have warned that as effective as canine tests can be, it can be difficult to scale. Training the dogs is time-consuming and expensive, but researchers are optimistic that it will come to play an important role in curbing the spread of the virus.