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Helsinki Airport uses dogs to sniff out the coronavirus

Travelers arriving at Helsinki Airport are offered a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds without the need for an annoying nasal swab. And the test is done by a dog.

On Wednesday, a pair of coronavirus-sniffing canines began work at the Finnish airport as part of a pilot program that aims to detect infections using sweat collected on incoming passenger wipes.

In recent months, international airports have introduced various methods to detect the virus in travelers, including saliva tests, temperature checks, and nasal swabs. But researchers in Finland say using dogs could prove cheaper, faster and more effective.

After passengers arriving from abroad have collected their bags, they are advised to wipe their necks to collect sweat samples and leave the wipes in a box. Behind a wall, a dog trainer places the box next to cans containing different perfumes and a dog gets to work.

Dogs appear not to be easily infected with the coronavirus, although in some cases they appear to be. Other animals such as cats appear to be much more sensitive. There is no evidence that dogs develop symptoms or that they can transmit the virus to people or other animals.

The pilot program in Finland is the first to be used at an airport. Susanna Paavilainen, the CEO of Wise Nose, said it aimed to have 10 dogs work at the airport by the end of November and Ms Hielm-Bjorkman of the University of Helsinki said she will collect data until the end of the year. .

More similar programs may be on the way. In recent months, studies conducted in Britain, France, Germany and the United States have evaluated how dogs might detect the coronavirus.

In Finland, researchers say that if pilot programs prove effective, dogs could be used in nursing homes to check on residents or in hospitals to avoid unnecessary quarantines for health workers.

But augmenting such programs could be tricky – dogs need to be trained and then assisted by their handlers once they can work outside the labs.

At Helsinki airport, two dogs worked simultaneously on Wednesday while two others rested.

Ms. Hielm-Bjorkman acknowledged that the resources were modest, at least for now. The program will try to assess how long dogs can work in a day and whether the same animals can be used to detect substances such as drugs.

Ms. Perala, from the Evidensia network, said Finland would need 700-1,000 dogs that smell the coronavirus to cover schools, shopping malls and rest homes, but more trained animals – and handlers – would be needed for even more coverage wider.

“We could keep our country open if we had enough dogs,” he said.

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