COVID-19 tests are for the dogs, literally! Several coronavirus-sniffing canines are being employed at Helsinki Airport in Finland.
The dogs’ sensitive noses are expected to speed up the process of identifying those infected with COVID-19.
“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. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating COVID-19,” said Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff in a statement.
According to preliminary tests conducted by a research group at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki, dogs can 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.
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 18,000,000.
The Helsinki Airport COVID-19 dogs are trained by Wise Nose. 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.
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.
In the future, 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.
“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,” said Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of Suomen hajuerottelu – WiseNose Ry, University of Helsinki’s DogRisk research group.
Almost all of the dogs have done scent detection before.