Dogs are set to be used for detecting COVID-19 amongst travelers at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. This pilot project follows preliminary testing conducted by a research group at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki.
During these preliminary tests, dogs were able to smell the virus with almost 100% certainty. They were also able to identify the virus days before the symptoms had even started, something that even laboratory tests fail to do, Ulla Lettijeff, Airport Director notes.
The airport operator continues by saying that the dogs are also able to identify the virus from a much smaller sample than PCR tests. “The difference is massive, as a dog only needs 10-100 molecules to identify the virus, whereas test equipment requires 18,000,000.”
A COVID-19 dog test at Helsinki Airport will not include direct contact with the dog, Finavia notes. Instead, detection dogs will perform work in separate booths.
“Those taking the test will 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,” the airport operator states. We don’t yet have visuals of Helsinki’s program, but we imagine it will look similar to what Dubai International Airport has for a setup:
“The pilot that will be kicked off on Tuesday is unique and a world first. 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,” -Ulla Lettijeff, Airport Director, Finavia.
the canines working at Helsinki-Vantaa are trained locally at Wise Nose – Finland Smell Detection Association.
This start-up organization trains dogs to distinguish between different smells. On its website, the company notes that dogs can be trained to recognize the scent of the changes associated with certain medical events. “For example, cancer cells leave tiny amounts of volatile substances that dogs learn to recognize.”
Still in pilot phase
For now, Wise Nose’s ‘Nose Academy’ is running the pilot project. However, if proven to be a success, Finavia says that customs dogs might be able to replace the current operatives. This is because official COVID-19 testing with trained dogs can only begin once a corresponding legislative amendment has been passed.