Helsinki airport trials sniffer dogs as virus detectors

The trial is taking place at Finland's Helsinki-Vantaa airport

Sniffer dogs are a familiar sight at airports, where border agents use them to detect illegal substances and contraband.

Now sniffer dogs are using their noses for a different purpose – coronavirus.

Dogs specially trained to detect Covid-19 have this week started sniffing passengers as part of a trial at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

Canine coronavirus tests take minutes to complete

Volunteers are training a team of 15 dogs and 10 instructors for the research programme.

The dogs can detect coronavirus in humans five days before they develop symptoms, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, the University of Helsinki professor who is running the trial, told Reuters news agency.

“They are very good [at detecting coronavirus]. We come close to 100% sensitivity,” she said.

The trial is taking place at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport

Passengers wipe their necks with cloths, which are then placed in a can and put in front of dogs to sniff. A canine test can deliver a result within minutes.

But while the trial has shown early promise, more research needs to be done to prove the efficiency of canine testing. At the moment, passengers who take part in the trial are also instructed to take a swab to confirm the result.

In the future, it is possible that “these dogs go around passengers in a similar way to customs dogs”, the deputy mayor of Vantaa, Timo Aronkyto, said.

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