Helsinki Airport detects people with coronavirus thanks to trained dogs.

In May the University of Helsinki (Finland) started a pilot test to train dogs to recognize Covid-19 disease by smell. After a few weeks the scientists in charge of the study were surprised by the success and speed with which the dogs had learned to differentiate the urine samples of infected patients and healthy patients.

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“We have a solid experience in training odour-detecting dogs related to diseases. It was fantastic to see how quickly the dogs located the new smell,” said DogRisk group director Anna Hielm-Björkman.

Within a few months the dogs had developed such a capability that it was almost as reliable as a standard PCR test.

After such a success it was decided to continue training dogs in order to control the spread of the virus in the country and they were introduced at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

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Initially, as a trial period, the airport will have 16 dogs that have been trained at the Evidensia veterinary clinic in Vantaa.

“The dogs will not do any official work, they will just get used to the place for a few weeks”, said Timo Aronkytö, deputy mayor of Health and Social Services in Vantaa.

It is estimated that the dogs can have a significant impact on the effort to prevent the spread of the virus at Finland’s largest airport. However, their function and use remains unclear, as their official position will differ from, for example, the detector dogs used by Finnish customs.

“When a customs dog sniffs a suitcase and marks it, the passenger cannot refuse to open the suitcase. When a dog trained to detect coronavirus marks a passenger, the passenger will first be asked to undergo a voluntary test, but then it should also be possible to force the passenger to take the test,” explains Aronkytö.

According to the Helsinki Times, Helsinki airport officials have not yet ordered anyone to be placed in mandatory quarantine, despite reports that tests at the airport were two to three times more positive than tests elsewhere in the Helsinki-Uusimaa hospital district (HUS).

The airport is also waiting for PCR tests to speed up the virus detection process, even at the airport itself, potentially making it a more attractive proposition for arriving passengers. These tests are manufactured by the Finnish company Kojair Tech.

“The tests will be considerably faster,” said Sanomat Heikki Aro, CEO of Kojair Tech, to Helsingin. “It can take hours to transfer the sample from the airport to a laboratory in Meilahti. With the new tests the result is received in about 15 minutes.

By Neus Palou – La Vanguardia

Photo: Chiemsee2016 / Pixabay