Dogs to sniff out Covid at Helsinki airport

Hemani Sheth September 25 | Updated on September 25, 2020 Published on September 25, 2020

“They can identify the virus even before symptoms start”

Four trained sniffer dogs have begun working at Finland’s Helsinki airport to sniff out Covid-19 from passenger samples as part of a state-funded pilot project.

The pilot that kicked off earlier this week is meant to help Finnish researchers find a cheaper, faster and more affordable way to test for Covid-19.

According to an official release, the dogs were able to smell the virus with almost a 100 per cent certainty in preliminary tests. These tests were conducted by a research group at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki. “They can also identify the virus days before the symptoms have even started,” the release read.

According to research, the dogs required 10-100 molecules to identify the virus compared to existing test equipment that requires 180 lakh molecules.

The Helsinki Airport sniffer dogs have been trained for these Covid-19 tests by Wise Nose, Finland Smell Detection Association. However, such a method for testing will be made official only after a corresponding legislative amendment has been passed.

“We are working with Finnish Customs to prepare for a potential scenario where it takes charge of the operation,” says Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of Suomen hajuerottelu-WiseNose Ry, University of Helsinki’s DogRisk research group.

As part of the pilot, the dogs perform these tests in a separate booth to avoid direct contacts with the passengers. Skin samples are taken from the travellers in a cup which is then given to the dogs to sniff out the virus. “This also protects the dog’s handler from infections. All the tests are processed anonymously,” Helsinki airport said.

“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,” it explained.

Overall, 10 sniffer dogs are being trained for the job. The programme is costing about €300,000. The amount is much lower than for laboratory-based testing methods, The Guardian reported.

Similar projects are being looked at by researchers in other countries such as Australia, France, Germany and Britain, the report said.

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Published on September 25, 2020
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