Monday, September 28, 2020

Sniffer Dogs Detect Covid-19

Anyone who's been through an airport or crossed national borders would have seen detection dogs, noses diligently sniffing for illegal drugs or banned produce. Sniffer dogs have also been deployed to nose out invasive insects and/or wildlife or wildlife parts, like rhino horns and ivory. 

Now, some dogs are using their noses for a different purpose – Covid-19. 

Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country's Helsinki-Vantaa airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that aims to identify infected travellers.




 







The dogs can detect Covid-19 in humans five days before they develop symptoms, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman (right), the University of Helsinki professor of animal medicine who is running the trial, told Reuters news agency. 

"It's a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing", she said. “We come close to 100% sensitivity". 

For people with allergies, or fear of dogs, there's no reason to worry. The passengers will have no direct contact with the canine Covid-19 detectives. 

The test is performed from a wipe that is swiped on the passenger's skin, and placed in a beaker. In a separate booth, the dog will sniff the sample. If the dog detects Covid-19, they will make a physical sign, usually by yelping, pawing or lying down. A canine test can deliver a result within minutes. 

But while the trial has shown early promise, more research is still needed to prove the efficacy of canine testing. At the moment, passengers who take part in the trial are also instructed to take a swab to confirm the result. 

Four dogs of different breeds trained by Finland’s Smell Detection Association started working on Wednesday as part of the government-financed trial. 

If successful, the pilot scheme could help provide a more efficient method of detection that could be used in a range of scenarios – e.g. in hospitals, ports, aged care homes, sports venues and cultural events among the possible locations where trained dogs could put their snouts to work. 

"We are among the pioneers", declared airport director Ulla Lettijeff of aviation company Finavia. "As far as we know no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against Covid-19. We are pleased with the city of Vantaa's initiative. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating Covid-19". 

(Note: Vantaa is the city where Helsinki’s international airport is located). 

Researchers in countries including Australia, France, Germany and the UK are reportedly working on similar projects – but Finland is the first country in Europe to put dogs to work sniffing out the coronavirus.

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