HELSINKI, FINLAND: While sniffer dogs are a familiar sight at airports all over the world, some are now being deployed to sniff out Covid-19.
Since late September, international arrivals at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport have been offered a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds with no uncomfortable nasal swab. All they need to do is go to a private room, use a wipe to dab themselves and then drop the wipe in a metal canister. The dog’s trainer subsequently puts the can in a lineup, and then a dog goes to work sniffing all five cans.
The dogs are able to detect a Corona Virus-infected patient in 10 seconds, and the entire process takes a minute to complete. If the dog signals a positive result, the passenger is directed to the airport’s health centre for a free virus test.
Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, the University of Helsinki professor who is running the trial, told Reuters news agency that the dogs can detect the virus five days before the onset of symptoms.
The researchers in Finland say that using dogs are cheaper, faster and more effective. But while the trial has shown early promise, more research needs to be done to verify the efficiency of canine testing. For now, passengers who take part in the trial have been instructed to take a nasal swab to confirm the result.
There are a number of projects around the world that are moving forward with deploying Covid-19 dogs, and this is happening a little bit before the robust evidence is in place, said Claire Guest, the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs in the UK.
In July, researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in Germany found that with a week of training, dogs were able to distinguish saliva samples of people infected with the virus from non-infected samples with a 94 percent success rate.
In June, a team in France used a small number of samples collected from human patients found a high degree of evidence that dogs could detect the virus from the subjects’ armpit sweat.
Canines are also currently scanning for the virus in multiple airports in the United Arab Emirates.