COVID-Sniffing Dogs in Helsinki

November 4, 2020
COVID-Sniffing Dogs in Helsinki

Ten amazing dogs sniff out COVID-19 carrying passengers in Finland’s Helsinki airport.

In a pilot program, passengers are asked to volunteer to run a test wipe across their skin to collect a sweat sample.  The wipe is placed in a cup in a nearby booth, where the dogs quickly go to work and make a physical sign to indicate samples that carry the virus.

These canines can detect the virus in only ten seconds, and up to five days before symptoms even appear.  If one of the dogs indicates that a passenger carries the virus, the person is then sent for a nasal swab test for confirmation.

The airport is hopeful that it can eventually use medical dogs as part of the normal screening process to find effective and efficient ways to keep travelers safe.

Video Spotlight: 

This post is based on the Science Alert article, Dogs Deployed at Helsinki Airport Can Detect COVID-19 With Almost 100% Accuracy, by Michelle Starr, September 25, 2020; the Yahoo! Life article, Dogs are being trained to sniff out COVID-19 at the airport, by Rachel Grumman Bender, September 25, 2020; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Shutterstock / Dragosh Co

Discussion Questions:

1. What is the accuracy rate of the test process?

Guidance: Dogs have up to 300 million olfactory receptors, as compared to a mere six million in humans, making them privy to a world of scents that people cannot detect.  Researchers believe that all diseases and some other medical conditions cause the release of distinct scents via breath, sweat, or bodily fluids.  Dogs have already proven adept at identifying medical issues such as malaria, cancer, and seizures.  Some researchers have said that dogs can identify the COVID-19 virus with surprising ease as compared to some other medical conditions.

Studies with medical dogs detecting COVID-19 have been conducted in several countries, yielding accuracy rates from 94% to nearly 100%.  Some studies used samples of sweat, while others used saliva.  When training the dogs, researchers also used urine samples, sebum samples, tracheobronchial secretions, or nasopharyngeal swabs.  Dogs were trained in as little as one week to provide results with a high degree of accuracy.

2. How does using dogs to detect COVID-19 improve screening efficiency?

Guidance: In addition to delivering highly accurate results even days before a person is experiencing symptoms (thus helping reduce the spread of the disease sooner), dogs can provide a result in only ten seconds.  Furthermore, they require a much smaller sample of only ten to 100 molecules, rather than lab tests which need 18 million molecules.

3. How are dogs scheduled?

Guidance: Dogs work in teams of four.  Two work while the other two take a break.  Like humans, they need rest in between their shifts.


Leave a Reply

Notify of