Finland Uses Coronavirus-Sniffing Dogs at Airport

Caroline Crist

September 25, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Finland is deploying dogs that can detect the coronavirus at its main international airport in Helsinki, according to The Associated Press.

The 4-month pilot could determine whether COVID-detecting canines could be used as an affordable alternative for testing and help airport officials find infected travelers.

"It's a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing," Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a small animal medicine researcher at the University of Helsinki who is monitoring the pilot, told the news service.

The program is voluntary. Passengers who agree to take the free test use a wipe to swipe their necks to collect a sweat sample, which is placed in a box and given to a dog in a separate booth. The four trained canines, who have learned how to detect cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses, sniff the sample for 10 seconds and then give a result. They either scratch a paw, lay down, or bark their conclusion.

If the wipe is positive, the passenger is encouraged to take a standard COVID-19 test at the airport's health center.

If the trial is successful, coronavirus-sniffing dogs could be used at other locations as well, the AP reported, including hospitals, nursing homes, sports arenas, and entertainment venues.



So far, the trial seems to be working, Hielm-Bjorkman told The New York Times. The dogs can sniff out the virus in people who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, she said, and can detect it at earlier stages than standard COVID-19 tests.

Four dogs are starting their shifts at the airport this week, and six are still in training, the newspaper reported.

Finland is the second country to test detection dogs at an airport, following behind a program launched at the Dubai International Airport in August, according to Newsweek. Dog-sniffing programs are being studied in Australia, Britain, France, Germany, and the U.S. as well.