Covid-19 sniffer dogs arrive at Helsinki airport to sniff out infected passengers

Covid-19 sniffer dogs arrive at Helsinki airport to sniff out infected passengers

Covid-19 sniffer dogs have arrived at Helsinki Airport in Finland for a pilot project today that will see them attempt to sniff and identify infected passengers.

Finnish airport operator Finavia said the dogs’ sensitive noses are expected to speed up the process of identifying those infected with Covid-19.

The company said it is pleased with the city of Vantaa’s efforts to test new and efficient ways to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A sniffer dog (image: Finavia)

Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff from Finavia said, “We are among the pioneers. As far as we know no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against Covid-19. We are pleased with the city of Vantaa’s initiative. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating Covid-19.”

According to preliminary tests conducted by a research group at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki, dogs are able to smell the virus with almost 100% certainty. They can also identify the virus days before the symptoms have even started. This is something that laboratory tests fail to do.

Finavia said the dogs are also able to identify Covid-19 from a much smaller sample than the PCR tests used by health care professionals. The difference is massive, as a dog only needs 10-100 molecules to identify the virus, whereas test equipment requires 18 million.

The Helsinki Airport Covid-19 dogs are trained by Wise Nose, the Finland Smell Detection Association that specializes in smell detection for dogs. Nose Academy, the research group’s start-up company, is running the operation at the airport. In the future, customs dogs might replace the current operatives.

Official Covid-19 testing with trained dogs can only begin once a corresponding legislative amendment has been passed, according to Finavia.

Taking a Covid-19 dog test at Helsinki Airport will not include direct contact with the dog. Instead, the dog will perform its work in a separate booth. Those taking the test will swipe their skin with a test wipe and drop it into a cup, which is then given to the dog. This also protects the dog’s handler from infections. All the tests are processed anonymously.

If the test result is positive, the passenger will be directed to a health information point maintained by the city of Vantaa, which is located at the airport.

Four dogs will work at the airport during a shift. The duration of each shift depends on the dogs. A total of 10 are being trained for the job.

Almost all of the dogs have done scent detection before. How long it takes to learn to identify covid-19 depends on the dog’s background. One of the dogs that will soon work at Helsinki Airport is an 8-year-old greyhound mix called Kössi, who learned to identify the scent in just seven minutes.

Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of WiseNose, University of Helsinki’s DogRisk research group, said, “Dogs need to rest from time to time. While two dogs are working, the other two are on a break. The service is mainly intended for passengers arriving from outside the country.”

“We are working with Finnish Customs to prepare for a potential scenario where it takes charge of the operation,” Paavilainen added.

Almost all of the dogs have done scent detection before. How long it takes to learn to identify Covid-19 depends on the dog’s background. One of the dogs that will soon work at Helsinki Airport is an 8-year-old greyhound mix called Kössi, who learned to identify the scent in just seven minutes.

Last month, Dubai International Airport began deploying police dogs for on-airport Covid-19 testing, which reportedly can produce results in minutes with 92% accuracy.

Other countries such as the UK and Chile have also trained and trialled dogs for sniffing out Covid-19 in humans.

A German study published in July found that dogs with several days of training are capable of identifying people infected with Covid-19.

The Covid-19 sniffer dogs are being trained by Wise Nose (image: Finavia)

Commentary

The widespread studies and training of sniffer dogs in detecting humans with the Covid-19 infection indicates that man’s best friend is truly instrumental in the fight against the deadly pandemic.

With airports in Dubai and Helsinki deploying sniffer dogs for Covid-19, it’s a matter of time before more dogs across the world join in on helping to identify those with the infection to help prevent the spread.

Dog’s nose up close

 

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