Accessibility links

Breaking News

Sniffer Dogs Rival Science at Detecting Coronavirus

The beagle bitch Djaka finds corona-positive samples with her sense of smell during a news conference at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, Sept. 24, 2020.

Finland’s latest weapons in the fight against the coronavirus are named Kossi, E.T. and Miina.

The three sniffer dogs are being put to work at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport, using their unrivalled sense of smell to detect passengers carrying the disease.

Soile Turunen from the organization "Wise Nose" has been overseeing the Finnish trials.

“Customer feedback has been exceptionally positive,” Turunen said. “The dog test is extremely fast, from taking the sample to getting the results takes about two minutes.”

The dogs have proved so popular that some passengers have lined up voluntarily to be sniffed by the canine threesome.

Early results are encouraging: the dogs’ detection rate closely matches that of conventional swab or PCR lab tests, according to the Deputy Mayor of Vantaa, Timo Aronkyto.

“We have done 16- to 17-thousand PCR tests at the airport and less than 1% are positive,” Aronkyto told AFP. “And if you compare these dogs' less than 1% and the PRC tests' less than 1%, they are about the same, I don't think there is a statistical difference.”

Sniffer Dogs Beat Swabs in Detecting Coronavirus
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:16 0:00

Early results from several trials around the world suggest that sniffer dogs can detect and identify people infected with the coronavirus with surprising accuracy, raising hope that our canine companions could soon be used to help fight the pandemic.

In fact, researchers say the dogs are beating the swabs — detecting positive coronavirus cases that the tests have missed.

Sniffer dog trials are also underway in Britain. Professor James Logan of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had been working on a project using dogs to detect malaria when the coronavirus hit.

“A dog’s nose is absolutely astounding, in terms of what it can detect,” Logan told VOA. “We’re talking about parts per trillion. So it’s like a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools, it’s that sort of equivalence.”

Logan began looking at whether dogs could detect the coronavirus soon after the pandemic hit in March.

“It’s not the virus itself, but it’s the change in our body that causes a change in our odor that the dogs can detect,” he said.

Final results from many of the trials are expected soon. If successful, many more canine detectors could be deployed around the world, ideally in places where the coronavirus is most likely to spread outside the home.

"Environments where you’ve got to get through a lot of people very, very quickly … so we’re looking at places like airports, but also other ports of entry, perhaps commuter train stations, maybe even places of work and hospitals or schools,” Logan said.

So man’s best friend could soon be helping to fight one of mankind’s biggest challenges.