Finnish researchers use sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19

Helsinki Airport

COVID-19 sniffer dogs have started work at Helsinki Airport as part of a state-funded pilot scheme in Finland.

The city of Vantaa, where the international airport is located, believes dogs will be an effective method of ensuring health and safety at airports. Four dogs will work at the airport during a shift. The duration of each shift depends on the dogs.

The animals are capable of detecting coronavirus within 10 seconds and the entire process takes less than a minute to complete, according to Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki, who is overseeing the trial, The Guardian reports.

Preliminary tests conducted by a research group at the veterinary faculty of the University of Helsinki reveal that dogs can smell the virus with almost 100% certainty.

The research also indicates that dogs can identify the virus days before the symptoms have even started.

Additionally, Helsinki Airport said dogs could identify COVID-19 from a much smaller molecular sample than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests used by healthcare professionals – needing only 10–100 molecules to detect the presence of the virus compared with the 18,000,000 needed by laboratory equipment.

Almost all of the dogs have done scent detection before. The length of time it takes to identify COVID-19 depends on the animal’s background.

One of the dogs working at Helsinki Airport is an eight-year-old greyhound mix called Kössi, who learned to identify the scent in just seven minutes.

After collecting their luggage, arriving passengers are asked to swipe their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup, which is then given to the dog in a separate room.

If the dog indicates it has detected the virus, the passenger will be directed to a health information point maintained by the city of Vantaa at the airport to take a free standard PCR test, using a nasal swab, to verify the dog’s verdict.

The Guardian reports that a French study published in June concluded there was “very high evidence” the sweat odour of COVID-positive people was different to that of those who did not have the virus, and dogs could detect the difference.

“As far as we know, no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against COVID-19,” said Helsinki Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff in a statement.

“We are pleased with the city of Vantaa’s initiative. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating COVID-19.”

Authorities in Vantaa confirmed to the Guardian that the pilot program is due to last four months.

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