Sniffer dogs have started work at Helsinki airport in Finland in a pilot scheme that is having remarkable success rates.
“We are the pioneers. As far as we know no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection against Covid-19. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating it,” said airport director Ulla Lettijeff.
The four dogs, trained by Finland’s Wise Nose, take shifts with two working while the other two rest.
Passengers suspected of carrying the virus are instructed to take a swab of their skin with a wipe which is then given to one of the dogs to sniff.
The top dog, an eight-year-old greyhound mix, takes only seconds to deliver a result by scratching, sitting or barking.
“It’s a very promising method. Dogs are incredibly good at sniffing. If it works, it will be a good coronavirus screening method at other places,” Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki professor of small animal medicine, said. “We come close to 100% sensitivity.”
Dogs are able to identify Covid-19 from a much smaller sample than the PCR tests used by humans. The difference is massive, as a dog only needs 10-100 molecules to identify the virus, whereas test equipment requires 18,000,000.
The airport dogs can also identify the virus days before the symptoms have even started. This is something that laboratory tests cannot do.
Scientists are not yet sure what exactly it is that the dogs sniff when they detect the virus. A scientific study published in June concluded that people carrying Covid-19 may have a different sweat odour and it could be this that the dogs are detecting.
Researchers in France, Germany, the UK, Australia and the UAE are reportedly also working on similar projects.
It looks like dogs really could turn out to be man’s best friend in these strange times.