The Nerd Side Of Life

Dogs Being Used at Helsinki Airport to Sniff Out Covid-19 by Smelling Sweat

When people are infected by the virus that causes Covid-19, their sweat emits a different scent.  People may not be able to pick up on it, but it is now being discovered that dogs can.  

For the past few months, researchers throughout the world spent their time training dogs to identify the scent of the coronavirus.  During the early stages of testing, The University of Helsinki saw that certain breeds have exceptional noses and could sniff it out with almost 100 percent certainty over the course of a couple dozen trials.  It has also been found that they can detect it in sweat days before a person begins displaying symptoms. 

At Helsinki Airport in Finland, 4 dogs were employed on September 22 to sniff out those potentially infected with Covid-19.  The dogs, whose names are Kössi, Miina, Valo and E.T., are tasked with smelling the sweat of international travelers.  

Wise Nose was responsible for training these 4 Covid-19-sniffing dogs, and they are in the process of training a dozen more.  At the moment, 6 are not suited to working in an airport environment, but the other 6 will join the 4 to make a team of 10 in Helsinki. 


The way it works is the traveler is directed to a private room where they are given a wipe to dab some of their sweat.  The wipe is then put in a metal canister and lined up in a row of 5.  Then the dogs work their magic, sniffing away at the canisters.  

If the dog sniffs something out and indicates the canister, he gets a treat.  The corresponding traveler is sent to take a Covid-19 test for free.  

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The dogs will work in groups 4 with 2 shifts.  One shift will be sniffing out the canisters, while the other will be resting with their trainers. 

Trainer Susanna Paavilainen with Kössi (L) and Miina (R) 
Photo: Lehtikuva via Reuters

Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, professor at the University of Helsinki who is leading the trail, told the New York Times:

“We know how dogs detect it- by smell- but we have no clue what they detect yet. If we find this out, we can train thousands of dogs across the world.”

Kössi (Photo: Lehtikuva via Reuters)

One of the dogs, Kössi, who is an 8 year old greyhound mix, learned how to identify the specific scent in just 7 minutes.  He has had extensive background in searching for signs of diseases in medical samples.  

This program is still not ready to be relied on fully, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.  

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