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Helsinki airport deploys man’s best friend to screen travelers for COVID-19

Two months ago, scientists in Germany proved that, with little training, sniffer dogs can become incredibly good at detecting the novel coronavirus.

Now the Helsinki Airport, Finland, is working together with such trained dogs, to detect COVID-19 among passengers, in a bid to provide a cheap, fast and effective alternative method of identifying potential carriers of the virus.

Researchers at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Helsinki have been training the dogs to sniff out COVID-19 since the start of the year, but only a few months later the dogs were already successfully trained to sniff out the virus from sweat, and have now been deployed at the airport for trial testing.

As part of the screening process, travelers will be asked to rub their skin with a wipe, drop the wipe into a cup, which a canine will then sniff, delivering a result within minutes. If the dog signals a positive result, the passenger is directed to the airport’s health information area for a free virus test.

Multiple studies have already shown that dogs have an amazing ability to sniff out diseases, ranging from cancer to malaria. And while scientists don’t always know exactly what it is that the dogs sniff when they are detecting specific diseases, current evidence points to certain volatile organic compounds found in our sweat which can vary with illness

While it’s currently unclear whether the Helsinki program will scale beyond testing at the airport, researchers point that the current pilot makes for a fascinating case study, demonstrating that we don’t necessarily need saliva tests, temperature checks, and uncomfortable nasal swabs to screen for the virus, when tens of thousands of years of domesticated canine evolution is already on our side.

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