Dogs trained to recognize patients with coronavirus started to work at Helsinki airport
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Dogs trained to recognize patients with coronavirus started to work at Helsinki airport

24 September , 20:32Technology
Several dogs, trained to detect coronavirus by the smell, began working yesterday at the airport in the Finnish capital.

Irina Ziganshina

In recent months, international airports have introduced different methods of detecting the virus in travelers: temperature checks, throat and nose swabs... Helsinki Airport yesterday launched a pilot program to detect infection using sweat taken from tissues. The test takes only 10 seconds, does not require picking a stick in your throat, and the dog is the diagnostician, according to The New York Times.

After a passenger arriving from abroad has collected his luggage, he is offered to wipe his neck and leave a napkin with a sweat sample in the box. The box is carried away behind the partition, the trainer places it in front of the dog next to other specimens, and the animal gets to work. According to the initiators of the program, dogs are able to detect an infected with coronavirus in 10 seconds, and the whole process takes a maximum of a minute. If the dog gives a prearranged signal indicating a positive result, the passenger is directed to the airport medical center for free virus testing.

Dogs are known to have a particularly keen sense of smell and have long been used at airports to sniff out bombs, drugs and other contraband in luggage. Recent studies have shown that they are also capable of detecting diseases such as cancer and malaria. All of this prompted scientists from the University of Helsinki to initiate a project to train dogs to detect Covid-19.

According to the researchers, in the process of work it turned out that dogs are able to sniff out the virus in a person who is asymptomatic, or find it in the early stages of the disease. Even the PCR test, the most common diagnostic method for detecting coronavirus today, is more error-prone than a trained dog. The findings of the Finns are confirmed by scientists from other countries. For example, staff at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover also found that with a week of training, dogs are able to distinguish saliva samples from people infected with the coronavirus from uninfected ones with 94% accuracy.

Finns train their dogs to smell the virus in urine and sweat samples. As soon as the animal detects a positive sample, it gives a signal (and receives a treat for this). If everything is clear, the dog simply moves on to the next sample.

You can see how it looks in the video at the link.

The first group of animals that veterinarians and trainers began to deal with included 16 dogs. Four have already started work at the airport (working in shifts - two are sniffing, two are resting), six are still undergoing training, and six more were unable to work in a noisy environment.

According to veterinarians, absolutely all dogs can be trained to smell the coronavirus, however, due to their individual characteristics, not all of them can work at the airport. The fact that the coronavirus has its own specific smell, caught by a dog's nose, is obvious. But what exactly in this smell the animals react to is still a mystery.

The pilot program in Finland is the first of its kind. Employees at Helsinki Airport expect to have 10 dogs working for them by the end of November. All the while, researchers will monitor the animals, studying how long they can work during the day and whether they can be used to detect other substances, such as drugs.

If the pilot program proves to be effective, the Finns intend to use dogs to screen residents in nursing homes and patients in hospitals. According to experts, Finland may need from 700 to 1000 trained dogs to cover the main thing - schools, shopping centers and nursing homes. But even more trained animals and instructors are needed for more complete coverage.

The ability of dogs to detect coronavirus is now being studied in the UK, France, Germany and the United States.

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