Helsinki Airport Uses Dogs to Sniff Out Coronavirus

Travelers arriving at Helsinki’s airport are being offered a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds with no uncomfortable nasal swab needed. And the test is done by a dog.

A couple of coronavirus-sniffing canines began work at the Finnish airport on Wednesday as part of a pilot program that aims to detect infections using the sweat collected on wipes from arriving passengers.

Over the past months, international airports have brought in various methods to detect the virus in travelers, including saliva screenings, temperature checks and nasal swabs. But researchers in Finland say that using dogs could prove cheaper, faster and more effective.

After passengers arriving from abroad have collected their luggage, they are invited to wipe their necks to collect sweat samples and leave the wipes in a box. Behind a wall, a dog trainer puts the box beside cans containing different scents, and a dog gets to work.

Dogs seem to not be easily infected with the coronavirus, although they appear to have been in a few instances. Other animals like cats appear to be much more susceptible. There is no evidence that dogs develop any symptoms or that they can pass the virus on to people or other animals.

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

More such programs could also be on the way. In recent months, trials conducted in Britain, France, Germany and the United States have assessed how dogs could detect the coronavirus.

In Finland, researchers say that if the pilot programs prove effective, dogs could be used in retirement homes to screen residents or in hospitals to avoid unnecessary quarantines for health care professionals.

But scaling up such programs could be tricky: Dogs need to be trained and then assisted by their trainers once they can work outside laboratories.

At the 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 like drugs.

Ms. Perala, of the Evidensia network, said that Finland would need 700 to 1,000 coronavirus-sniffing dogs to cover schools, malls and retirement homes, but that more trained animals — and trainers — would be required for even broader coverage.

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

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