Helsinki airport uses dogs to detect which passengers have Covid-19
Posted on 30/09/2020
Airports all over the world have begun to increase their Covid-19 testing services for incoming passengers as the borders are opening up. Helsinki airport is going a different route and offering voluntary coronavirus tests to its passengers. These tests are special because they're non-invasive and pain-free. In fact, they're carried out by Covid-sniffing dogs! As of now, there are four canines that are roaming the airport sniffing out passengers who have coronavirus, and it is around 94 to 100% accurate so far. If this method continues to be effective, it could change the course of how we trace the spread of the virus.
Dogs are known to have a heightened sense of smell and have been used to detect drugs, bombs and various contraband in luggage. Similarly, research shows that they have been able to sniff out illnesses like cancer and malaria. Hence why researchers have began training dogs to detect Covid-19, and Helsinki airport has now deployed a few of them on site as a part of a state-funded pilot scheme.
The test is conducted by collecting a sweat sample from passengers who have just arrived in the airport. The passengers are asked to use a wipe to collect the sweat on their body, and the wipe is left in a scent beaker. The trainer then puts the beaker amongst others that have different scents. If the dog detects the virus, he lets his trainer know by pawing on the ground or laying down. Following a positive test, the passenger is directed to do a free test at the airport health centre to confirm the results. The process is incredibly fast and the dogs have been trained to detect the smell in 10 seconds - deeming this a cheaper, faster and more efficient alternative to other existing tests.
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Helsinki Airport has introduced coronavirus sniffing dogs as part of a four-month trial to identify infected travellers. More than three million cases have been reported in Europe since the beginning of the year and the number is rising fast. #Coronavirus #COVID19 #Pandemic #SnifferDogs #Finland
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However, there are still limitations that need to be understood and dealt with. Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a researcher at the University of Helsinki spoke to The New York Times stating that the resources are limited, and they have yet to figure out how many hours the dogs stay productive and whether Covid-19 tracking dogs can be trained to track drugs as well for efficiency. The Helsinki airport dogs have been working in two different shifts, so while two are busy sniffing, the other two get to rest. Anette Kare gave a statement on behalf of Finland's Smell Detection Association saying, "Dogs need to rest from time to time. If the scent is easy, it doesn't wear out the dog too much. But if there are lots of new scents around, dogs do get tired easier."
While researchers continue to make advancements with this testing method, the big question that still remains unanswered, is what are the dogs actually detecting? "We don't know how dogs detect it - by smell - but we have no clue what they detect yet. If we find this out, we can train thousands of dogs across the world," explained Anna Hielm-Bjorkman.