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Finland deploying dogs to detect COVID-19 at airport

Finland deploying dogs to detect COVID-19 at airport
© ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

The Helsinki Airport in Finland is launching a new pilot program  Wednesday to combat the spread of COVID-19 with some key testers: coronavirus-sniffing dogs. 

Anna Hielm-Björkman, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that voluntary canine tests could deliver results on travelers carrying the virus within 10 seconds. 

The Finnish trial is the largest and furthest along in testing, compared to similar canine-centered tests being conducted in the United States and United Arab Emirates. Preliminary results from Dubai tests showed that dogs were able to accurately detect COVID-19 in sweat samples 90 percent of the time. 

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According to the Post, people at the Helsinki Airport who agree to a coronavirus screening will swab their own necks and these samples will then be transferred through an opening in a wall for the trained dogs to sniff. 

Hielm-Björkman told the Post that all who are tested will also be encouraged to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test to measure the dogs’ accuracy. 

Hielm-Björkman also claimed that based on initial research, dogs may be better at spotting coronavirus infections than PCR and antibody tests. They “can also find [people] that are not yet PCR positive but will become PCR positive within a week,” she told the Post.

Last month, the Post reported that several researchers and experts doubt the effectiveness of canine coronavirus tests, with University of Manchester professor Perdita Barran telling the outlet that training dogs can be too time-consuming and expensive to meet the rapid spread of the virus around the globe. 

“It doesn’t scale with the cost of dogs,” Barran told the Post in August. 

While the World Health Organization has noted several cases of dogs and other animals testing positive for COVID-19, the health body of the United Nations says that there is “no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans.”

National Geographic reported in July that the first dog in the U.S. to test positive for the virus had died. In August, Louisiana government officials recorded the state's first known animal case of COVID-19 when a dog tested positive.