Yet Another Reason Why Dogs Are Great - They Can Sniff Out Malaria

Dogs can be trained to sniff out children with malaria just by smelling their socks researchers said Monday

Dogs can be trained to sniff out children with malaria just by smelling their socks researchers said Monday

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.

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell.

Socks from 145 uninfected children and 30 socks from malaria-infected children were collected for dog testing. They wore them overnight while sleeping and turned them over to researchers the next day.

The sock samples were then transported to the Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) charity in Milton Keynes.

Incredibly, the dogs were able to correctly identify 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples.

The study, presented Monday at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in the United States (US) city of New Orleans, could potentially lead to the first rapid and non-invasive test for malaria.

"The possible potential to train dogs to detect tropical disease where diagnostics are poor, such as leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis is huge". Thanks largely to insecticide-coated bed nets, Gambia saw a precipitous drop in the overall prevalence of malaria, from 4 percent to 0.2 percent, between 2011 and 2017.

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

The sniffer-dog test may be particularly useful in countries that have the malaria parasite, but the number of sufferers are low, the scientists add.

Blood-sucking mosquitoes, which spread the disease, are thought to be attracted to the parasite's odour.

They were also able to correctly identify 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites.

Dogs could test a whole community in a short space of time. As malaria infections progress, the parasite goes through several stages of development. They are never accurate 100 percent of the time, so it's unclear how many disease carriers would still clear customs.

It's still early days for the research, and the teams now want to conduct much larger trials to see if dogs can directly sniff out malaria in people, not just clothing samples. According to a new research, good dogs can diagnose malaria accurately in people, even when they don't show such symptoms. When Freya detects the scent it gives off, she sits down next to it to receive a reward.

Genetic mutations have also exacerbated the challenges of detecting malaria. A better sample would have been 100 malaria-positive socks and 300 negative socks, she says. And although using nylon socks is a common method for capturing body odor for mosquito experiments, it only represents one part of the body.

One unknown piece of the puzzle is why, exactly, malaria-infected people smell differently.

The sock sniffing ability could be used to quickly spot those with the deadly disease before they show symptoms so they can be treated and stop the disease spreading. To get the dogs familiar with smelling people, the handlers would work with mannequins that were wearing clothes from infected individuals.

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