Could Finnish Covid dogs help sniff out the pandemic? | Yle Uutiset | yle.fi

Sniffer dogs are a valuable tool in medical diagnostics. Image: Anna Hielm-Björkman

Kössi the Spanish greyhound has been sniffing out medical samples for years.

He's a sniffer dog who gets a 'good boy!' and a sausage every time he manages to identify cancer in samples. Now he has a new task: finding coronavirus.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki say they have successfully gotten trained dogs to identify urine samples from coronavirus patients.

"This research has exceeded our expectations," said researcher Anna Hielm-Björkman. "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."

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Kössi the sniffer dog, who may soon travel abroad to demonstrate his skills. Image: Anna Hielm-Björkman

Although Covid-19 is an infectious disease that can afflict mink and cats, among other mammals, Hielm-Björkman says that dogs do not have the receptors necessary for the virus to gain a foothold.

That means dogs can play a role in sniffing out the virus even when cases are mild or asymptomatic — and international demand for that service is high.

"We've had enquiries from doctors and other researchers, but also embassies, customs agencies and police dog trainers," said Hielm-Björkman.

Kössi might soon get to travel abroad to demonstrate his skill in differentiating samples, depending on the destination countries' quarantine rules.

Better than PCR

Coronavirus is normally found through blood testing for antibodies or PCR testing of a nasal swab.

In the Helsinki research, dogs have identified urine samples from coronavirus patients who have tested positive via other means.

Hielm-Björkman says that the trained dogs have always managed to identify the coronavirus patient's sample when it's placed with four non-coronavirus samples.

According to the researcher, Kössi has found positive samples with greater reliability than the PCR tests and antibody tests.

"But we don't yet know everything about this disease," says the scientist. "For example, why do dogs identify someone as sick long after their recovery? Is there some form of chronic coronavirus?"

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