Dogs detect COVID-19 at Helsinki Airport

Erin Holley discusses a promising new mechanism for COVID detection

Erin Holley
18th October 2020

The turnaround between test results of COVID-19 swabs are a pressing issue surrounding the global effort to contain the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Delays in test results may prevent infected individuals from effectively self-isolating, heightening the multifaceted transmission mechanisms that make coronavirus so contagious.

Dogs have an almost 100% accuracy rate when detecting COVID-19

Since 22nd September 2020, Helsinki airport has utilised trained sniffer dogs in an attempt to rapidly detect and immediately quarantine individuals with COVID-19. This novel approach relies on dogs that have previously shown success in identifying cancerous and diabetic human cell cultures, that currently work with an almost 100% accuracy rate when detecting COVID-19.

Dogs are able to detect COVID-19 in human sweat samples

Ten dogs are working within the Finnish pilot project and are able to successfully detect COVID-19 in human sweat samples, with an incredible turnaround: just 10 seconds to under a minute. This turnaround, compared with the standard 24-hour window that individuals being tested in England must wait for, represents an opportunity to prevent asymptomatic carriers from unknowingly infecting others.

Dogs detect COVID-19 up to 5 days before symptoms develop

Dr Hielm-Bjorkman of the University of Helsinki has attested to the dogs' abilities, with all ten dogs able to detect COVID-19 in an individual up to 5 days before symptoms develop.

Currently, the COVID-19 R rate in the UK has hovered around 1.2-1.5, meaning that every 10 infected people can infect 12 to 15 other people.

Image credit: Konstantin 'KVentz' Ventslavovich, 2019.

The Helsinki project aims to identify potentially contagious asymptomatic individuals before entry into the country, by allowing the dogs to test individuals in the arrivals lounge. This cost-effective and efficient method represents a branch of Finland’s largely successful methods of state funded COVID-19 support and containment protocols.

Despite the early success of this programme, it is worth remembering that the programme is still in its infancy, and remains a trial rather than a mandatory process in immigration screening. However, this programme represents a promising, though unconventional, testing process that ultimately puts Finland ahead in the worldwide effort to curb COVID-19.

Featured Image: Pixrepo

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