Dogs are being trained to sniff out COVID-19, and they're better than the tests

There are currently four COVID-19 sniffing dogs at the airport in Helsinki, Finland — part of a state-funded project to screen new arrivals who might be carrying the novel coronavirus.

As The Guardian explains:

The canines were not sniffing the virus itself but rather tell-tale volatile chemicals produced when the virus infects cells, and released by the body.

The chemicals should be produced whether or not an infected person has symptoms, and only if the virus is active – suggesting that unlike current lab techniques, dogs are unlikely to pick up "dead" virus.

According to Harvard Medical School, "the reported rate of false negatives is as low as 2% and as high as 37%." But so far, these COVID-sniffing dogs have locked in an 83% accuracy rate, with a few of them even scoring 100% in early trials.

While the only active COVID-sniffing dogs in Finland, there are trials underway in other countries as well, including Spain, Germany, Australia, Brazil, and Lebanon. Some of these countries use different methods than the Fins — Germany trains its dogs on saliva samples, rather than sweat, for example — but the accuracy rates seem to be fairly consistent. Even better is that the training doesn't seem to be limited to any one dog breed so far. Prof Dominique Grandjean of the national veterinary school of Alfort in France told The Guardian that even "mongrel" breeds with no prior training can learn to sniff out COVID-19 in just 8-10 weeks.

I guess it's time to re-write this Mountain Goats song.

'Any breed could do it': dogs might be a Covid tester's best friend [Nicola Davis / The Guardian]

'Close to 100% accuracy': Helsinki airport uses sniffer dogs to detect Covid [Jon Henley / The Guardian]

These dogs are trained to sniff out the coronavirus. Most have a 100% success rate [Susan Hazel / The Conversation]

Image: Can Do Canines/Flickr (CC 2.0)