Trained dogs are capable of detecting the presence of the coronavirus within 10 seconds, with the entire process takes less than a minute to complete and in Finnish trials achieving nearly 100% accuracy.
Four COVID-19 sniffer dogs have begun work at Helsinki airport in a state-funded pilot scheme that Finnish researchers hope will provide a cheap, fast and effective alternative method of testing people for the virus, reports The Guardian.
Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki, who is overseeing the trial, says: “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.
After collecting their luggage, arriving international passengers are asked to dab their skin with a wipe. In a separate booth, the beaker containing the wipe is then placed next to others containing different control scents – and the dog starts sniffing. If it indicates it has detected the virus – usually by yelping, pawing or lying down – the passenger is advised to take a free standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, using a nasal swab, to verify the dog’s verdict.
In the university’s preliminary tests, dogs – which have been successfully used to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes – were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy, even days before before a patient developed symptoms.
The report says scientists are not yet sure what exactly it is that the dogs sniff when they detect the virus. A French study published in June concluded that there was “very high evidence” that the sweat odour of COVID-positive people was different to that of those who did not have the virus, and that dogs could detect that difference.
Dogs are also able to identify COVID-19 from a much smaller molecular sample than PCR tests, Helsinki airport said, needing only 10-100 molecules to detect the presence of the virus compared with the 18m needed by laboratory equipment.
Authorities in Vantaa, the city where Helsinki’s international airport is located, said the pilot programme, which is due to last four months, was costing €300,000, which it said was significantly lower than for laboratory-based testing methods.
Full report in The Guardian