COVID-19

This airport is using dogs to detect passengers infected with coronavirus

Sniffer dogs Valo (L) and E.T., who are trained to detect the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the arriving passengers' samples, sit next to their trainers at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland September 22, 2020. Lehtikuva/via REUTERS      ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND. - RC2N3J9LOXLP

K-19? Image: via REUTERS

Anne Kauranen
Writer, Reuters
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COVID-19

  • Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport has started using detection dogs to sniff out passengers infected with coronavirus.
  • The 15 dogs are part of a pilot scheme, run by the airport to keep flyers safe and reduce the spread of COVID-19, alongside other measures.
  • It's believed dogs may be able to detect the disease up to five days before symptoms show.
  • Canine testing has also been used at Dubai International Airport.

Dogs trained to detect the novel coronavirus began sniffing passenger samples at Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport this week, authorities said, in a pilot project running alongside more usual testing at the airport.

The dogs’ efficiency has not been proven in comparative scientific studies so passengers who volunteer to be tested and are suspected as carrying the virus are instructed to also take a swab to confirm the result.

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A team of 15 dogs and 10 instructors are being trained for the job in Finland by volunteers, sponsored by a private veterinary clinic. Among them is Kossi, a rescue dog from Spain, who was trained as a sniffer dog in Finland and who has worked before detecting cancers.

Valo, one of the sniffer dogs being trained to detect the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the arriving passengers' samples, sits with his trainer at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland September 22, 2020. Lehtikuva/via REUTERS      ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND. - RC2N3J9E3TVP
Airport is trialing the dogs under a pilot scheme. Image: via REUTERS

“What we’ve seen in our research is that the dogs will find (the disease) five days before they (patients) get any clinical symptoms,” Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, who is Adjunct Professor at the University of Helsinki and spesialised in clinical research for companion animals, told Reuters.

“They are very good (at it). We come close to 100-percent sensitivity,” she said, referring to the dogs’s ability to detect cases of the virus.

Trainer Susanna Paavilainen is seen with Kossi (L) and Miina, sniffer dogs being trained to detect the coronavirus from the arriving passengers' samples, at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland September 22, 2020. Lehtikuva/via REUTERS      ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND. - RC2N3J99PQCT
The dogs are thought to be able to detect the disease up to five days before the show of symptoms. Image: REUTERS

In the canine test, a passenger swipes their neck with a gauze, places it in a can which is then handed over to another room for a dog to sniff and to deliver an immediate result.

A few months ago, authorities in the United Arab Emirates embarked on similar canine testing at Dubai International Airport using police dogs.

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

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