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A trial conducted at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, in Finland, has reported that sniffer dogs can detect coronavirus almost as accurately as PCR tests. In its preliminary trials, the research has seen around 100 passengers per day tested using the dogs.
Arriving passengers are asked to line up for the test, and wipe their skin with a cloth.
The cloth is then placed in a can for the dogs to sniff.
Sniffer dogs are trained to avoid negative samples but attract to positive ones.
Dogs are trained to point out a positive test by yelping, pawing or lying down.
Should a dog alert staff of what it thinks is a positive test, the passenger is then taken for a nasal PCR test.
At the time of writing, around 2,200 passengers have participated in the experiment, with trials anticipated to run throughout December.
Passengers at the airport are taking part in the trial voluntarily.
According to Anna Hielm-Björkman of the University of Helsinki, who is overseeing the trial, using sniffer dogs could provide a cheap and fast alternative to PCR testing at airports.
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So far, the university says the trials have successfully detected cases of the virus with “close to 100 percent accuracy, up to five days earlier than a PCR test.”
The trial is currently costing the airport around €300,000 (£271,349.85) but they state this is still cheaper than implementing PCR testing trials.
Around 16 dogs are being trained for the project by Finnish organisation Wise Nose.
The dogs are currently working in shifts.
Amongst them are top sniffers ET, Kossi, Miina and Valo, who started work in September and were among the first to be used in the trial.
In April, a similar trial in the UK was suggested by The Medical Detection Dogs charity.
The charity has previously seen success training its pups to detect cancer, Parkinson’s disease and malaria.
Dr Claire Guest, CEO and co-Founder of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect COVID-19. We are now looking into how we can safely catch the odour of the virus from patients and present it to the dogs.”
The charity partnered up with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University in April.
Professor James Logan, Head of Department of Disease Control at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Director of ARCTEC, said: “We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19, change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it.
“This new diagnostic tool could revolutionise our response to COVID-19 in the short term, but particularly in the months to come, and could be profoundly impactful.”
So far, dogs have not yet been implemented in UK airports as part of ongoing testing trials.
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