Monday

5th Jun 2023

Finland pioneers using sniffer dogs to test for coronavirus

  • Star sniffer dog Kössi. The dogs' handler sets out an extra 'positive' sample if there is too long a time-gap between positive samples, to keep their motivation high (Photo: University of Helsinki/Twitter)

A pilot project has been started at Helsinki's Vantaa airport, where 10 dogs are now sniffing Coronavirus samples.

These samples are taken voluntarily from arriving passengers and the pilot will last until the end of the year.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

There are four dogs 'on duty': two of them working with their handlers, while the two others are resting.

The dogs are of different breeds, ages and sizes and are owned by members of the Finnish Odour-Separation Dog Association, Wise Nose.

The only reward the Covid-19 dogs gets - in addition to having an interesting job - is a freeze-fried meat delicacy when it marks a positive corona-sample.

Their handler sets out an extra 'positive' sample if there is too long a time-gap between positive samples, to keep their motivation high. So far, only one percent of tested passengers have come back as positive.

Some 16 dogs were tested for the research study and training, run by Helsinki University, last spring.

The purpose was to teach the dogs to distinguish the smell of coronavirus molecules from other smells, so that the dogs could be used at airports and other border crossings to assist in detecting arriving passengers carrying Covid-19.

The best trainee was a light greyhound mix, named Kössi, who was found in a cardboard box next to a highway in Spain seven years ago and brought to Finland by its new owner.

Kössi had earlier learnt to identify cancer, bedbugs and mould, among other smells. It took Kössi only seven minutes to learn to detect corona, after which it always chose the right sample.

Out of the 16 dogs only 10 were selected to contribute to the pilot project at Vantaa airport. The remaining six were not suited to work in a noisy environment with many people.

So far the results of using dogs to sniff corona have been outstanding.

They can detect a coronavirus in a person earlier and more reliably than PCR-tests analysed in the laboratory.

And they can do it fast - in about a minute. One of the more disturbing findings is that sometimes they can "mark" a sample from a person who has had corona, but has been declared healthy.

The science of odours has not yet been able to identify what the corona odour consists of, and why somebody can emit that smell long after recovering from the disease. This is not the case for cancer, where a recovered cancer patient stops 'smelling' of cancer.

Testing process

In order not to expose the dogs and their handlers to potentially sick people, a passenger who wants to participate in the testing pilot, gets a sample container and a sterile gauze.

He or she then wipes his armpit or neck with the gauze, places it in the sample container, and hands it through a hatch to the handler.

The handler arranges the new container, plus four similar containers with negative corona-tests, in a random order on the floor and asks the dog to check the samples. If the dog marks a sample as positive, the passenger will be instructed to contact nearby medical staff for follow up.

The training of the 10 dogs and their handlers was funded by the private Finnish Veterinary Center Evidensia which also provided health services and nutrition to the dogs and financial support to their handlers.

However, expenses for the pilot project at Helsinki-Vantaa airport are paid by the Finnish state. There are still many unanswered questions - like how many hours the various dogs are able to work, and how to separate those who already have recovered from Covid and those who have been recently infected.

The current discussion among health authorities is how to ensure such 'corona-dogs' have an official status, in line with dogs employed by customs authorities and police or used as service dogs helping blind or people suffering from epilepsy or diabetes.

This would require a change in Finland's Infectious Diseases Act and ensure further funding for using them.

Many countries have shown interest in the Finnish experiment, among them the United Arab Emirates. Currently the veterinary department of the Helsinki University is assisting 10 international research groups getting started with similar projects.

Author bio

Tarja Knudsen is a Finnish academic who has worked for the Nordic Council and the European Environment Agency.

Infographic

Coronavirus: Will a second wave divide Europe again?

Experts are now warning of the "very serious" surge in Covid-19 cases in Europe - where new weekly cases exceede those reported in March. The worst-hit countries are Spain and France - while Italy is resisting the much-feared second wave.

Opinion

Buyer beware! Online pet sales in EU need better regulation

While online is becoming the main method for buying pets, the lack of rules on the responsibilities of platforms regarding pet advertising has severely compromised consumer protection, fair competition, and animal health and welfare.

EU's migrants more at risk from coronavirus

Europe's migrants - including EU nationals living in other states - are more at risk of catching coronavirus or suffering from corona-linked poverty, a new study says.

Adapting to Southern Europe's 'new normal' — from droughts to floods

Extreme weather events in recent months have worsened agricultural production in southern Europe, prompting concerns for authorities in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. As countries will likely face dryer conditions, experts urge adaptation measures for the 'new normal'.

EU clashes over protection of workers exposed to asbestos

EU parliament is calling for more protection for workers exposed to asbestos, the main cause of workplace fatalities in the EU, while member states remain more cautious and will call for a review of its mandate.

Latest News

  1. Subcontracting rules allow firms to bypass EU labour rights
  2. Asylum and SLAPP positions in focus This WEEK
  3. Spanish PM to delay EU presidency speech due to snap election
  4. EU data protection chief launches Frontex investigation
  5. Madrid steps up bid to host EU anti-money laundering hub
  6. How EU leaders should deal with Chinese government repression
  7. MEPs pile on pressure for EU to delay Hungary's presidency
  8. IEA: World 'comfortably' on track for renewables target

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us