‘Corona dogs’ deployed at Helsinki airport to scent COVID-19

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Four sniffer dogs have been deployed to Helsinki Airport to detect COVID-19 as part of a pilot project.Researchers from the University of Helsinki, who oversee the program, said in a statement released Thursday that specially trained “corona dogs” have a successful detection rate of the deadly virus ranging from 94 to 100 percent depending on the dog.

Dogs can also detect coronavirus from a significantly lower amount of virus than commonly used PCR tests and do so much faster.

Testing of passengers and airport personnel should be carried out on a voluntary basis. In order not to frighten the animals and to reduce the risks for people who might be allergic to dogs, tests will be carried out via a sample.

Passengers and staff will take a skin hit, drop the sample into a container that will be handed to a trainer through a wall where the dog will sniff the sample. If the result is positive, the passenger will then be directed to the Helsinki University Hospital health information station for further instructions.

It has been found that dogs, thanks to their extremely sensitive sense of smell, sniff COVID-19 very easily in humans and therefore their training is relatively quick – it can only take a few hours.

They have also been found to identify the virus in asymptomatic people a few days before symptoms appear, which lab tests cannot do.

The researchers believe that if successful, the pilot project could lead to the deployment of “corona dogs” in various settings such as nursing or retirement homes, customs and other border points. They could also be used to test professionals in the healthcare industry and thus help avoid unnecessary quarantine.

Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of Nose Academy Oy, which is responsible for training and operating dogs, stressed that the risk to the animal is minimal.

“We often ask if a dog can catch coronavirus. According to studies, dogs do not have the receptor that the coronavirus attaches to, ”she said.

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