Health Care

Scientists train dogs to sniff out malaria on clothes

Scientists train dogs to sniff out malaria on clothes”

The researchers still need to improve the dog's accuracy and test them on people rather than socks, as well as investigate whether the animals can sniff out different species of malaria.

Now scientists have found a completely new application for these super smellers: detecting malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that killed 445,000 people in 2016, according to the World Health Organization, majority in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organisation says that since 2000, six countries have been certified as malaria free, with another 12 reporting that no malaria cases have originated within their borders.

Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, but the parasite itself, Plasmodium falciparum, infects many more people than it makes sick.

Although the research is in its early stages, scientists hope trained sniffer dogs could help to stop malaria spreading between countries and lead to infected people being identified earlier and treated quickly.

In the morning, they collected the socks-about 175 pairs-and tested the children for malaria.

When it came to spotting malaria, the results, presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, showed dogs could pick out seven in 10 samples from infected children. Meanwhile, the team trained the dogs to freeze is they identified malaria. Health researchers are now tapping doggos to help detect major diseases, including malaria, in people who may or may not be infected.

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Sniffer dogs could provide a non-invasive, portable and rapid test for identifying malaria carriers and would be particularly useful in settings where there are few individuals with malaria parasites. "This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection", Claire West, CEO with Medical Detection Dogs. Similarly, a handful of other studies have shown that dogs can hound out diseases like cancer by detecting the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with certain cancers in the breath or urine of people with the disease. New approaches would go a long way to addressing the detection problem, and by outcome, reducing the rate of malaria transmissions. Current diagnostic methods are also time-consuming because they require blood samples to be taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.

She added: "This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results".

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.

'This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future'. Logan is head of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's department of disease control.

Researchers said that travellers can be screened by dogs at ports entering areas that are malaria free but susceptible to re-invasion.

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