Researchers say that the four trained dogs working in a pilot program at Helsinki’s airport can identify the virus in seconds.
Finnish researchers hope that the state-funded pilot scheme will provide a cheap, fast, and effective alternative method of testing people for COVID-19.
Given that dogs can detect the presence of coronavirus within 10 seconds and the entire process takes less than a minute to complete, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki researcher overseeing the trial, finds the results very promising.
“If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places,” such as hospitals, care homes, and sporting and cultural events, she said.
For the program, arriving international travelers dab their skin with a wipe after collecting their luggage. In a controlled booth, the wipe is placed in a beaker next to others containing control scents, and the dog starts sniffing.
The dog then indicates it has detected the virus by yelping, pawing, or lying down, in which case the passenger then takes a PCR test, with a nasal swab, to verify the dog’s verdict.
The university’s preliminary tests found that dogs could identify the disease with nearly 100% accuracy, even days before a patient develops symptoms.
A French study in June suggested there was “very high evidence” that the sweat-odor of COVID-positive individuals was different than those without the virus, and that dogs—which have been able to identify diseases such as cancer and diabetes successfully—could detect that difference.