Dogs sniffing explosives and drugs are commonplace at airports around the world. But 10 dogs at Helsinki Airport are looking for something potentially just as dangerous.
A group of coronavirus sniffer dogs were deployed to the airport for the first time on Tuesday, as part of a pilot program, according to Finnish airport operator Finavia. It is the first airport in Europe, and the second in the world, to use dogs in the fight against the coronavirus.
“It could be a further step forward on the path to beating COVID-19,” airport manager Ulla Lettijeff said in a written statement.
Trained dogs can smell the coronavirus from 100 molecules or less – far less than the 19 million molecules used in PCR tests, according to Finavia. And research from the University of Helsinki has indicated that dogs can have almost 100% accuracy in detecting the virus.
A similar program at Dubai International Airport, where the idea of coronavirus sniffer dogs was first implemented, reported the dogs’ accuracy at 91%, Fox News previously reported.
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Unlike lab tests, dogs can even detect the virus before an infected person shows symptoms, according to the airport operator.
The dogs will primarily be used to test travelers arriving from out of the country, according to Susanna Paavilainen, CEO of Wise Nose, the company that trains the dogs and runs the operation.
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Passengers tested at the airport will not come into direct contact with the dogs. Instead, travelers will wipe their own skin and drop the sample into a cup, which will be presented to the dog in a separate cabin. Currently, testing is optional and anonymous, with passengers voluntarily submitting to being sniffed.
All passengers who test positive for COVID-19 will be sent to a city health information point inside the airport.
Most of the dogs in the program have already performed odor detection. One of them, Kossi, learned to identify the scent of the coronavirus in just seven minutes, according to Finavia.
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Four dogs will work per team, according to Paavilainen.
“Dogs need to rest every now and then,” Paavilainen said in a written statement. “While two dogs are working, the other two take a break.”