COVID-19 tests are for the dogs, literally! Several coronavirus-sniffing canines are being employed at Helsinki Airport in Finland.

The dogs’ sensitive noses are expected to speed up the process of identifying those infected with COVID-19.

“We are among the pioneers. As far as we know, no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against COVID-19. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating COVID-19,” said Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff in a statement.

According to preliminary tests conducted by a research group at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki, dogs can smell the virus with almost 100% certainty. They can also identify the virus days before the symptoms have even started. This is something that laboratory tests fail to do.

Dogs are also able to identify COVID-19 from a much smaller sample than the PCR tests used by health care professionals. The difference is massive, as a dog only needs 10-100 molecules to identify the virus, whereas test equipment requires 18,000,000.

The Helsinki Airport COVID-19 dogs are trained by Wise Nose. Nose Academy, the research group’s start-up company, is running the operation at the airport. In the future, customs dogs might replace the current operatives.

Taking a COVID-19 dog test at Helsinki Airport will not include direct contact with the dog. Instead, the dog will perform its work in a separate booth. Those taking the test will swipe their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup, which is then given to the dog. This also protects the dog’s handler from infections. All the tests are processed anonymously.

COVID-19If the test result is positive, the passenger will be directed to a health information point maintained by the city of Vantaa, which is located at the airport.

In the future, four dogs will work at the airport during a shift. The duration of each shift depends on the dogs. A total of 10 are being trained for the job.

“Dogs need to rest from time to time. While two dogs are working, the other two are on a break. The service is mainly intended for passengers arriving from outside the country,” said Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of Suomen hajuerottelu – WiseNose Ry, University of Helsinki’s DogRisk research group.

Almost all of the dogs have done scent detection before. For more inspirational stories about future travel, go to #AmazingDaysAhead. Not only are dogs being used to help detect COVID-19, but for stress relief as well. Read our story about that here.