Scientists Training Dogs to Detect COVID-19

by Thad Mitchell
scientists-training-dogs-detect-covid-19

Man’s best friend may become his best ally in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Associated Press, Finland is studying the use of dogs in the detection of the novel coronavirus. As a result, they are deploying coronavirus-sniffing dogs at one of the country’s major airports.

Researchers say training dogs to detect COVID-19 could be a cost-friendly alternative and therefore effective testing method. The ongoing four-month trial is designed to quickly identify travelers who may be carrying the virus. However, the study is still underway.

Helsinki Airport officials confirmed the airport is participating in the research study last month.

“COVID-19 dogs started their work today at Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B,” the airport tweets. “Dogs have been trained to detect the coronavirus from the test wipes given to the test person. Service is voluntary and primarily for passengers arriving from abroad.”

Dogs Show Promise in COVID-19 Detection

The study is utilizing four different breeds of dogs trained by the country’s Smell Detection Association. They are now a little over a month into the four-month study. University of Helsinki Professor Anna Hielm-Bjorkman says the study is promising. For instance, health officials may place dogs at a school to detect the virus in students.

“It’s a very promising method,” she says. “Dogs are very good at sniffing. If it works it will be a good screening method at aby other places.”

Finland isn’t the only country testing dogs’ ability to assist in fighting the spread of the coronavirus. TIME reports the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the U.K.-based nonprofit Medical Detection Dogs are also working on a similar study. However, the goal of their study is to train coronavirus-sniffing dogs to then deploy at schools, airports, and other public venues to reinforce existing nasal swab testing programs.

A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times stronger than of a human. Closer to home, the University of Pennsylvania has also studied the possibility of using dogs to detect COVID-19. Cynthia Otto, professor of Working Dog Sciences at the University, says there is great potential to utilize our four-legged friends.

“The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial,” she says. This study will harness the dog’s extraordinary ability to support the nation’s COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread.”

[H/T TIME]

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