Coronavirus-Sniffing Dogs May Help Make Travel Safe Again

Credit: pxfuel

Not everyone who had the urge to travel this past summer was able to get beyond the concept that someone might soon be sticking a swab up their nose or into the back of their throat for a coronavirus test before they were allowed to enter another country.

For those who shy away from such possibilities, there is hope again — in the form of dogs which have recently been trained to sniff out the coronavirus from wipes that subjects have just used on their necks.

Those who have passed through the airport serving Helsinki, Finland recently have been offered a choice of swabbing their necks or undergoing the standard coronavirus testing procedure, which many find uncomfortable.

Two such sniffer dogs began working the airport on Wednesday, part of a new project that some see as a viable alternative to the standard cringe-inducing coronavirus swab.

Heretofore, airports around the globe have tried saliva screens and temperature checks, along with nasal swabs, to try and ferret out those travelers who may be bringing in the coronavirus to their countries.

But it may come to pass that sniffer dogs, just as in drug checks, may be the best mode of all in detecting the dreaded virus. Not only that, but the canines could be cheaper and faster as well.

After foreign passengers have collected their luggage, they are asked to wipe their necks and then leave the cloths in a box. The trainers then place that box beside cans which have different scents in them.

It takes only ten seconds for a dog to detect people who are carrying the coronavirus, and the process, from beginning to end, takes only one minute — far less than the day-long wait for results that kept travelers quarantined overnight this past summer after they landed at foreign airports.

All positives are then referred to a clinic set up at the airport to confirm the result.

Now that canines have even been used to sniff out cancer in some patients, it seemed only logical to train the intelligent and hard-working animals to detect the coronavirus, according to Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki researcher who is running the experiment.

And the results up until now have been far beyond anything anyone could have imagined. Just in the first part of the trial, canines successfully detected the virus in people who were completely asymptomatic, finding it at an earlier stage even than the typical PCR test, which is the most widely-used coronavirus test worldwide.

A German study completed this past July found that dogs were able to detect the coronavirus at a 94% rate of success. Similar studies have also gotten underway in the US, Great Britain and France.

In an interview with the New York Times, Virpi Perala, a representative for Evidensia, a group of veterinary clinics and hospitals which funded the trial, explained that the dogs were rewarded for every correct detection with a treat, and that all dogs can be taught to sniff out the coronavirus.

Some, however, have proven unable to work in a noisy environment such as an airport.

No one knows exactly what it is that canines can smell when they sniff out the virus — just that they almost always do. As Hielm-Bjorkman told the Times, “If we find this out, we can train thousands of dogs across the world.”

Researchers also note that it may not only be travelers who benefit from the sniffer dogs, but nursing home residents and hospitalized people as well, who can be screened quickly and in a non-invasive fashion, enabling them also to receive any necessary treatment more quickly.