Airport Sniffer Dog on Duty

Helsinki Vantaa International Airport has started a trial using COVID-19 sniffer dogs to detect passengers infected with the coronavirus. This is part of an initiative by the airport operator, Finavia.  It is testing new ways to control the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Sniffer Dogs at Airports

COVID-19 sniffer dog

COVID-19 sniffer dog © Evening Standard

We are all familiar with sniffer dogs on duty at airports.  They are trained to use their highly sensitive noses to detect drugs, explosives, cash, and some diseases.  According to reports experienced sniffer dogs can be re-trained in a matter of minutes.

The Veterinary Faculty at the University of Helsinki was able to demonstrate that these dogs are almost 100 percent accurate in smelling the virus.  They can also identify the virus a few days before symptoms develop.  This is something laboratory tests cannot do.  The dogs can also work with a much smaller sample than is necessary for laboratory testing (PCR tests).  These results led to the start of the first large-scale trial at Helsinki Airport on September 22.

Trial of COVID-19 Sniffer Dogs at Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Vantaa International Airport

Helsinki Vantaa International Airport © Finavia

The COVID-19 sniffer dog test at Helsinki Airport does not involve direct contact between the passenger and the dog.  The detection dogs work in separate booths.  A passenger who is taking the test will swipe their skin with a test wipe.  This wipe is dropped into a cup and the cup is put in front of the dog.  This method protects the dog handlers from infection.

This service is voluntary and the main target will be passengers arriving from abroad.  Anyone identified as a carrier of the infection is directed to a health information point.   New legislation must be passed before Covid-19 testing with dogs can replace PCR tests.  Meanwhile, other countries are also experimenting with dogs.

COVID-19 Sniffer Dogs May Become the New Normal

The use of dogs to detect COVID-19 was first reported in mid-August when Dubai International Airport announced the results of their trial.  According to the United Arab Emirates, its police dogs achieved an overall accuracy of around 92 percent when testing Covid-19 samples.  They used police dogs as they have a strong sense of smell.  They have demonstrated an ability to detect traces of COVID-19 from human scent samples within seconds.  Following this successful trial, COVID-19 sniffer dogs could soon become commonplace at UAE airports.

COVID-19 sniffer dogs at Dubai International Airport

COVID-19 sniffer dogs at Dubai International Airport © Business Traveller

The NHS in the UK is currently conducting trials.  Volunteers are letting bio-detection pups smell their socks and T-shirts to see if they can detect individuals carrying the virus.  If this trial is successful then COVID-19 sniffer dogs could be working at UK entry points within six months and replace quarantine.

Would the introduction of COVID-19 sniffer dogs at airports worldwide make you feel more confident about flying?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

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