In the last months, a few very promising (German, French) pilot studies’ results on sniffing dogs to detect COVID-19 in infected people were published. The Finnish research group, led by Anna Hielm-B jörkman of the University of Helsinki, took the next step. With the close collaboration with the Finnish organization specializing in training animals in scent detection, Wise Nose took the first four dogs, ET, Kossi, Miina, and Valo, to work at the Helsinki airport to help in the detection of COVID-19 infected people.
The testing of passengers does not include direct contact with a dog. At arrival, passengers wipe their skin and put the tissue in a small container that is presented to a dog in a separate booth. If the dog responds positively to the sample (usually by yelping, pawing, or lying down), the person is advised to take a free standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, using a nasal swab.
It is fascinating that dogs can smell the virus with almost 100% certainty. They can also identify the virus days before the symptoms have even started, which is earlier than laboratory tests. However, we must keep in mind that the data needs further validation to understand the method’s benefits and limitations thoroughly.
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