Dogs used to detect coronavirus in pilot project at Helsinki airport

Samples from passengers are sniffed by dogs at Finland's Helsinki Vantaa airport to detect coronavirus. ― Reuters pic

Samples from passengers are sniffed by dogs at Finland's Helsinki Vantaa airport to detect coronavirus. ― Reuters pic

Four specially trained sniffer dogs have begun working at the Helsinki airport to detect the virus on travelers. Scientist Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki said, "It's very promising, ..."

Voice of America quoted the Finnish researchers as saying that if the pilot programme proves to be effective, dogs could be used to quickly and efficiently screen visitors in spaces such as retirement homes or hospitals to help avoid unnecessary quarantines for health care workers. We are among the pioneers. 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.

The dogs will mainly be used to test travelers arriving from outside the country. The pad is then placed in a scent beaker, and placed next to a control beakers with different scents.

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The dogs were not only incredibly accurate in their diagnoses, but were able to detect the presence of the virus in asymptomatic people.

In the trial, there is no direct contact between dogs and passengers and those detected with the virus will receive an additional conventional check so as to be completely certain.

Aside from COVID, the agency also trains pups to sniff out certain types of cancers, rats, bed bugs, and unsafe mould via a method called "the smell of separation", in which dogs are taught to isolate and identify a specific odour among other odours via smell samples placed in jars.

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It takes the dog a mere 10 seconds to sniff the virus samples before it gives the test result by scratching a paw, laying down, barking or otherwise making its conclusion known.

A similar programme started at Dubai International Airport over the summer. By comparison, the human nose has roughly six million receptors. And the portion of a dog's brain that analyzes and catalogues smells is 40 times greater than own. "The breed doesn't really matter if it is excited about the work. But if there are lots of new scents around, dogs do get exhausted easier".

Claire Guest, head of Medical Detection Dogs who are responsible for training the dogs said: "We are very proud that a dog's nose could be part of a solution to find a fast, non-invasive way of diagnosing Covid-19 and make a tangible difference to any future pandemics".

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