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Covid dogs sniff out virus in Helsinki

Scent-detection dogs could one day be at a common sight at entertainment and sports venues, say the researchers behind a trial at Helsinki airport

By IQ on 25 Sep 2020

Kössi, a scent-detection dog, working at Helsinki airport

Kössi, a scent-detection dog, working at Helsinki airport

image © Susanna Paavilainen/University of Helsinki

The professor behind a groundbreaking pilot scheme exploring whether dogs may be used to detect coronavirus in humans, currently underway in Finland, has said the testing method could become a cheap, quick way to detect the presence of Covid-19 in attendees to sporting and cultural events.

Trained scent-detection dogs have been deployed at Finland’s main international airport, Helsinki-Vantaa, as part of a state-financed trial led by the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

The four-month trial, which began on Wednesday (23 September), hopes to prove researchers’ theory that having dogs sniff for coronavirus – the trained canines can apparently smell the presence of Covid-19 on a wipe passed over an infected person’s skin – is even more reliable than a PCR test, currently the most commonly used test for the disease.

“This will be a good screening method at many other places”

According to the university, dogs can detect the presence coronavirus from a “significantly lower” amount of virus than PCR tests, allowing them to identify Covid-19 in humans earlier than laboratory tests. Research has also found that, unlike lab tests, a dog’s nose can identify infection in asymptomatic people.

Anna Hielm-Björk­man, a professor of equine and small-animal medicine at the university, tells the Press Association that, should the trial be a success, “it will be a good screening method at many other places”, including cultural events, sports venues and old people’s homes.

The Finnish pilot is the first in Europe and the second in the world, after a similar scheme recently introduced in Dubai.

According to Timo Aronkyto, the deputy mayor of Vantaa, where the airport is located, the programme is costing just 300,000. This, he tells PA, is significantly less than than other methods of mass testing new arrivals.


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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