From the beginning of the week, travelers at Helsinki can undergo free COVID-19 screening. It will not be a swab carried out by a laboratory technician: there will be a team of four dogs able to smell the coronavirus in human sweat.
This pilot study at Helsinki Airport in Finland is the largest of its kind and hopefully Covid sniffing detection dogs could soon play a role in helping the world to curb. the pandemic. Yes, that's right: dogs that can smell the Coronavirus will be able to support controls in many places.
How Covid sniffing dogs work
It's known: Dogs have an incredibly keen sense of smell, and with the right training, they can use it to help humans track down anything from bombs to bed bugs. Some dogs may even smell the signs of illness or infection in people. For this reason, immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic, several research groups around the world have launched studies to understand if it was possible to train dogs that smell Covid.
If so, these hounds could provide a non-invasive way to quickly screen people for the virus and would not require test supplies or expensive lab equipment.
The best results come from Helsinki
Since then, many of the groups have shared results incredibly promising of these efforts, including researchers from the University of Helsinki. As early as last May they reported training several dogs to distinguish between urine samples from healthy people and people with COVID-19.
How canine "control" at Helsinki airport works
As of September 22, four Covid-sniffing dogs are on duty at Helsinki Airport, offering free volunteer screening to travelers - six more dogs are undergoing training ready to join. The check is simple: the traveler passes a clean towel over his neck and drops it into a container. The container is then presented to one of the dogs, who stays in a separate cabin all the time without ever coming into contact with the traveler.
After about 10 seconds with the sample, the dog sniffing Covid will react in two ways. It will remain inert (and in that case it will not have detected anything) or give a signal that the personnel are trained to recognize. In this case, the traveler will be referred to the health check to carry out other tests.
Detection of dogs on take off
Helsinki is the first airport to continuously deploy Covid sniffing dogs. In August, Dubai International Airport launched a similar but much more restricted program. The Helsinki study will last four months: the data collected could provide the best indication ever on the usefulness of the dogs used for this type of screening.
Since detection dogs are expensive and take a long time to train, they would never be able to completely replace standard coronavirus tests.