Very Good Dogs Are Detecting COVID-19 At Helsinki Airport With Near 100% Accuracy

Dogs can do some pretty remarkable things. Just look at the dogs that help people through anxiety attacks, help people with special needs live their lives, serve alongside armed forces and search and rescue teams, and so, so much more. Dogs are our best friends for a good reason.

And if you thought they couldn't get any more awesome than they already are, it turns out they can sniff out COVID-19 with remarkable accuracy.

In Helsinki, Finland, travelers passing through the airport are sure to encounter a familiar, fuzzy sight but for a very 2020 reason.

Twitter | @Finavia

Dogs have long been around airports and especially large international airports, usually to sniff out contraband materials. However, at Helsinki Airport, they're putting their noses to work to detect COVID-19 among travelers.

"We are among the pioneers. As far as we know no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against covid-19. We are pleased with the city of Vantaa’s initiative. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating covid-19," said Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff in a press release.

Now, there have been a couple of other studies involving dogs using their noses to detect the virus.

Unsplash | CDC

Lest anybody worry, the dogs in these programs aren't smelling the actual virus. Rather, they're smelling the effects the virus has on the human body.

In Germany, dogs were trained to smell COVID-19 in saliva samples, and were able to do so with 94% accuracy. A French study took samples from armpit sweat for dogs to sort out which had COVID-19 and which didn't, and the dogs performed well, with 95% accuracy.

Researchers in the U.K. have been working with dogs as well, training a team of six dogs to sniff out the coronavirus with the aim of using them at airports in hopes of helping to revive the nation's travel industry.

But in Finland, trained sniffer dogs are already headed to the airport.

In preliminary tests conducted at the University of Helsinki, the dogs had a near-perfect record of being able to detect COVID-19 even in pre-symptomatic people.

Unlike with those contraband-sniffing dogs, however, the dogs tasked with detecting the virus won't be coming into direct contact with any travelers. Rather, those taking the test will swab their skin and drop the swab into a cup.

That sample will then be taken to the dog, which will have its own little booth to work from. Those testing positive will be directed to a health information point to receive further directions and most likely a second test to confirm the dog's findings.

There are four dogs currently on the team at Helsinki Airport, with aims to expand the crew to 10.

But they'll only be working in shifts of two at time, mainly working to detect COVID-19 in travelers arriving from outside the country.

How long each shift will last depends on the dog, but a backup will be available when the dog inevitably needs a break.

It's worth emphasizing that using dogs to sniff out the virus at Helsinki Airport is just a pilot program.

Twitter | @Finavia

The pilot is currently scheduled to run for four months before being re-assessed, according to The Guardian.

But given the effectiveness of the dogs so far and the speed of their results, it's not surprising that researchers and trainers are excited for the possibilities that lay ahead. "It’s very promising," the University of Helsinki's Anna Hielm-Björkman, who is running the trial, told The Guardian. "If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places."

h/t: The Guardian,

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