Researchers at the University of Helsinki claim they have successfully trained dogs to identify COVID-19.
Coronavirus is normally found through blood testing for antibodies or PCR testing of a nasal swab. In the University of Helsinki research, dogs have identified urine samples from coronavirus patients who have tested positive via other means.
“The research has exceeded our expectations,” researcher Anna Hielm-Björkman told national broadcaster Yle. “The dogs have identified cancer and other diseases in the past, but we have been surprised at how much easier it is for the dogs to spot corona.”
According to Hielm-Björkman, the trained dogs have always managed to identify the coronavirus patient's sample when it's placed with four non-coronavirus samples. The researcher said Kössi the Spanish greyhound, who has been sniffing out medical samples for years, found positive samples with greater reliability than the PCR tests and antibody tests. This means a dog's nose can play a key role in detecting the virus, even when cases are mild or asymptomatic.
While COVID-19 as an infectious disease that can be contracted by mink and cats, which has already led to culling across Europe, Hielm-Björkman stressed that dogs do not have the receptors necessary for the virus to gain a foothold.
According to her, the demand for the new service has already shot through the roof.
“We've had enquiries from doctors and other researchers, but also embassies, customs agencies and police dog trainers,” Hielm-Björkman said.
In conclusion, she stressed that much remains unknown about the disease so far. “For example, why do dogs identify someone as sick long after their recovery? Is there some form of chronic coronavirus?” she mused.
Previous Finnish research suggested that certain types of cancer may be detected by smell. Therefore, cancer-sniffing dogs can be trained to differentiate between healthy and sick tissue to help diagnose the disease.
At some 7,300 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 328 deaths, Finland remains one of the most mildly-hit countries.