Dogs capable of detecting Covid-19 even earlier than medical laboratories have already been deployed at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport for a four-month trial.
According to a statement by Finavia, the main Finnish airport operator, their sensitive noses are now expected to contribute to speed up the process of identifying passengers infected with the coronavirus. The city of Vantaa believes that they will be "an efficient method of ensuring health and safety" at the main Finnish aerodrome.
“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,” says Airport Director Ulla Lettijeff from Finavia.
Detecting Covid-19 is easy for dogs and results have been encouraging. 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.
Trained 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 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. Official coronavirus testing with trained dogs can only begin once a corresponding legislative amendment has been passed.
No direct contact
Taking a Covid-19 dog test at Helsinki Airport does not include direct contact with the dog. Instead, the dog performs its work in a separate booth. Those taking the test 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. A total of 10 are being trained for the job, Finavia says.