Trained dogs can sniff out malaria from a child's dirty sock

01 November, 2018, 20:32 | Author: Lillian Steele
  • Lexie and Sally the two dogs who took part in the malaria study

Another avenue of research that needs to be explored is whether the smell is consistent across populations, so Lindsay plans to test people from all over Africa to see if the dogs can recognize malaria among their scents, too.

Recent research shows that dogs may be able to sniff out malaria through their acute sense of smell, thereby saving thousands of lives through quick and non-invasive detection, according to a news report.

Identifying people infected with the malaria parasite, but not presenting symptoms, is critical as they can be treated with antimalarial drugs and the spread of the disease can be prevented. He said detection dogs would operate best at ports of entry into countries which eliminated malaria or are close to elimination.

But there are still an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, an increase of five million cases over the previous year and it kills 445,000.

The research has been conducted by experts at Durham University, the medical research council unit in The Gambia and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Blood tests revealed 30 of the children had malaria, while the remaining 145 were not infected. Using just the sock samples alone, the dogs correctly identified 70 percent of the infected children and 90 percent of the uninfected children.

But Lindsay said the dogs' success rate actually might have been higher-up to 78 percent-if the children with malaria were all carrying the same type of parasites. The majority of people with malaria at any time are perfectly healthy walking parasite factories, and without knowing they are infected, these healthy carriers can easily spread the disease to new regions and new people who might not be so fortunate.

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This research was recently presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's annual meeting in New Orleans.

Professor Steve Lindsay, of the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, the principal investigator in the study, today described the importance of the dogs' detection capabilities. Since the initial study a third dog, a springer-spaniel called Freya, has also been trained.

Confirmation of the disease would then be made by taking a finger-prick blood sample.

It suggests dogs could become another weapon in the fight against the disease which, despite significant reductions in the number of cases in the past two decades, remains the biggest killer of children under five in Africa.

MDD chief executive Dr Claire Guest, who is co-author of the new study, said she was delighted by the early results which also augurs well in the battle against other tropical diseases.

The researchers still need to improve the dogs' accuracy and test them on people rather than socks, as well as investigate whether the animals can sniff out different species of malaria. Logan is head of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's department of disease control. It costs a lot to produce.

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