COVID Detecting Dogs Achieve ‘Close To 100 Percent Accuracy’ In Finnish Airport Program

A dog sniffs packages at an airport.
Simon Watts / Getty Images

As the world races to create a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, researchers in Finland’s capital of Helsinki have announced that they have implemented a cheap and easy detection scheme: COVID-sniffing dogs.

According to The Guardian, four sniffer dogs have begun working at the Helsinki airport over the past week to detect the presence of the virus in arriving passengers. Already, the project is being hailed a major success. The canines can reportedly recognize symptoms of COVID-19 within just 10 seconds and have “close to 100 percent accuracy” in their results.

“It’s very promising,” explained the University of Helsinki’s Anna Hielm-Bj√∂rkman, who is heading the trial. “If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places,” including hospitals, nursing homes, and other large scale events.

The process is simple. Upon disembarking the plane, passengers are asked to wipe their necks with a cloth, which is then put into a jar. The jars are taken to a separate area, mixed with regular samples to provide a placebo, and placed in front of the canine unit. Dogs mark a positive sample by yelping or making other types of movements.

The passengers’ samples that are deemed positive for COVID then perform a free polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test using a nasal swab to double-check the diagnosis.

That said, what has stunned scientists is that dogs appear to require less of a viral load than standard laboratory equipment. Canines reportedly needed only 10-100 molecules to come to a positive verdict; meanwhile, PCR tests need around 18 million.

Transportation Security Administration K9 handler Steve Sanzillo pets his explosive detection dog Teddy.
  Bryan Thomas / Getty Images

Scientists are still unsure how dogs are specifically able to detect the coronavirus. However, a recent French study claimed there is “very high evidence” that the sweat of infected patients was different from that of healthy people — and it is very possible that the dogs are able to pick up the changes in scent.

The program is estimated to continue for at least another four months and will cost Finland an estimated $350,000 in total, which is substantially lower than the price for a more laboratory-based strategy.

Other countries, including Australia, France, Germany and Great Britain, are also looking to implement similar initiatives, especially in light of reports of a potential second wave sweeping the continent.

The idea of using dogs to detect the deadly disease is not new. In fact, The Inquisitr reported as early as this past May that scientists were looking into canine detection. Dogs have been used in detecting other diseases as well, including Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and malaria.