Sniffing for the Coronavirus: Dogs Can be Trained to Detect the Coronavirus

You may be used to seeing dogs at airports and know they are there to keep you safe from any threats and contraband passengers could bring on plans such as helping bust anyone traveling with drugs, but you probably aren’t familiar with airport dogs that can figure out if you are carrying the coronavirus around with you. While you won’t face the same repercussions as someone who is typically stopped by dogs, you would most likely be asked to get a virus test, which would need to be negative, before being allowed to travel. 

This method is starting to be used at Helsinki’s airport for passengers arriving from abroad and is a great alternative to the typical temperature checks that could be faulty for asymptomatic or less severely affected people and to the saliva checks and nasal swabs that are not very pleasant. This can also be a cheaper, faster, and more efficient alternative according to Finland researchers. So, in Finland, they had each arriving passenger wipe the back of their neck so that the dogs could detect the infection based on the smell of sweat. 

Let’s pretend you just flew from America to Finland. You would land at the Helsinki airport, collect your luggage, and then you would be invited to use the provided wipes to wipe the back of your neck and collect a sweat sample. These wipes would be left in a box. The dog trainer would then take this box and place it next to cans that have different scents in it. Then, the dog would get to work.  The dog would be able to detect in 10 seconds if the passenger is infected, and would signal a positive result. In this case, the passenger would be directed to get a free virus test at the airport health center to confirm the result. If the dog does not signal a positive result, you’re in luck because you don’t have the virus and you can be on your way!

The coolest part about the power of dog sniff testing is that not only can they sniff out the virus in an asymptomatic person, they can also sniff out the virus in a person before symptoms have onset. They were able to detect the virus at an earlier stage than the PCR test which is currently the most widely used coronavirus diagnostic tool.

While this may not be in airports everywhere soon since it takes time to train dogs and then to see if they are able to work in an airport environment, it is a very cool testing application. Researchers do believe that the coronavirus has a smell because that is what these dogs are sniffing out, but they aren't sure exactly what the dogs are detecting through their sniffs. If they are able to pinpoint this, thousands of dogs could be trained to sniff the scent out, not only in airports but also in retirement homes, hospitals, testing sites, schools, offices, etc. Scaling the program will be the hardest part since the dogs would need to be trained and then also assisted while sniffing in these environments since well.... they are dogs. And these dogs are doing some pretty incredible work.

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