The extremely sensitive olfactory sense of dogs might prove to become a new tool in the fight against Covid-19. According to the preliminary tests conducted at the University of Helsinki, trained scent detection dogs seem to be quick in recognising coronavirus from samples and might even be more sensitive than many of the tests that are now on the market.
Dogs' noses are now put to test at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. A pilot project has been started with four dogs sniffing samples. The official status of Covid-19 dogs is still being clarified, so civilian dogs are used in the pilot instead of service dogs. Civilian dogs are not being trained for sniffing humans directly. Participation in testing with dogs is voluntary at this time. All passengers and airport personnel can seek to be tested. It will be possible to go over to the use of official coronavirus testing with service dogs when permitted by a change in the law.
Testing at the airport designed to be safe
The testing at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport has been designed carefully. Passengers who are allergic to dogs or are afraid of them have been taken into consideration, and so now a dog will smell only samples swiped from the skin, rather than directly sniffing an individual.
When a passenger at the airport comes to the Covid-19 dog sampling station they step into a small space delineated by screens, where they take a skin swipe from themselves according to the instructions given and drop the sample into the container provided for it. The dog and its trainer are behind a wall, where the dog sniffs the given sample.
“It is often asked if a dog can catch coronavirus. According to studies, dogs lack the receptor to which the coronavirus attaches,” said Susanna Paavilainen. She added that there has also been no information from around the world that dogs of Covid-19 patients would have become ill.
Dogs recognise the coronavirus easily
It has been discovered that coronavirus is easy to smell for dogs, so because of this, training dogs is relatively fast, and the results are good. The training of a dog to be a Covid-19 dog is very individualistic, however.
Learning the smell of coronavirus takes from a few hours to a few months. International peer-reviewed studies have shown that a dog's ability to find positive patients is about 94 to 100 per cent, depending on the dog.
Dogs can also detect coronavirus from a significantly lower amount of virus than the commonly used PCR tests. This means that a dog will be able to identify the coronavirus in humans earlier than laboratory tests. It has also been found that a dog’s nose has identified coronavirus infection in asymptomatic people days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms. Laboratory tests cannot do this.