Travellers arriving at the Helsinki Airport in Finland are going to be dogged about a COVID-19 test ― literally.
As part of a test project, the airport has started offering voluntary coronavirus tests that only take 10 seconds without a nasal swab being stuck into your sinuses. Instead, the test is administered by one of two canines trained to detect the virus by sniffing the sweat of arriving passengers, according to The New York Times.
It works like this: After passengers get their luggage from baggage claim, they can volunteer to wipe sweat from their neck and leave the swab in a box. A trainer then puts the box next to containers of other scents for one of the disease-sniffing dogs to sniff.
The process takes about a minute. If the dog gets a positive result from the neck sweat, the person is sent to the airport’s health center for a free virus test that might involve something more invasive than a cold nose.
Peliminary research suggests that the doggy sniff test might be more effective at detecting coronavirus infections than the standard polymerase chain reaction or antibody tests, University of Helsinki researcher Anna Hielm-Björkman told The Washington Post.
They “can also find [people] that are not yet PCR positive but will become PCR positive within a week,” Hielm-Björkman said of the dogs.
Only two dogs are currently working as disease detectors, but 14 others are being trained for the job, according to International Airport Review.
Some dogs can learn to sniff out the virus in a very short time. One 8-year-old greyhound mix named Kössi learned to identify the scent of COVID-19 in just seven minutes.
Although many dogs have tested positive for the virus, “there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans,” according to the World Health Organization.
If the canine coronavirus detectors prove their effectiveness, Hielm-Björkman said other virus-sniffing dogs could be deployed to nursing homes, schools and other places with crowds.
“You could open up society in another way if you had those dogs,” she said.
Finland would need 700 to 1,000 coronavirus-sniffing dogs to cover schools, malls and retirement homes, Virpi Perala, a representative of Evidensia, a network of hospitals and veterinary clinics that funded the trial’s first stage, told The New York Times.