Man’s best friend could lead the way to opening up the world’s airways once more should a pilot scheme in Helsinki airport prove successful. Four Covid-19 sniffer dogs are involved in a Finland state-funded scheme it is hoped will prove an alternative to testing.

According to Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki, a dog can detect a coronavirus strain within 10 seconds.

“It’s very promising,” Hielm-Björkman, who is in charge of the trials, told The Guardian. “If it works, it could prove a good screening method in other places.

A Sniff of a Chance

The system is swift and non-obtrusive. Passengers arriving at the airport are dabbed with a wipe which is then transferred to a booth where the COVID-19 sniffer dogs get to work. The jar containing the wipe is placed next to others containing various scents.

If the sniffer dog starts yelping then the passenger is instructed to take a free nasal swab test.

In trials held at the university, the dogs demonstrated a near 100% accuracy, even before patients had shown any symptoms. In the past dogs have been used to detect diabetes and cancer.

Training the COVID-19 Sniffer Dogs

Scientists are not yet sure what it is that the dog sniffs, although a French study has suggested that the odour of a COVID-positive person’s sweat is different to those without the coronavirus, at least to a highly trained dog.

The current pilot is due to go on for four months and will cost €300,000; a fraction of the cost of using laboratory tests.

The four dogs – Kossi, ET, Miina and Valo – started work on 23 September. In total, 16 dogs are being trained by Wise Nose for the project.

Australia, France, Germany and the UK are said to be following Finland’s lead. A similar project is currently being trialled at Dubai international airport having started in August.