Published: Thu, November 01, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Dogs Can Sniff Out Malaria in Worn Socks

Dogs Can Sniff Out Malaria in Worn Socks

With their keen sense of smell, dogs can track down bombs and drugs, but new research suggests they can also sniff out malaria in people.

The disease is caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, but it can be prevented and cured with antimalarial drugs.

Said to be one of the greatest public health success stories, global malaria control may get a shot in the arm if countries can strategically use dogs to sniff and detect malaria-infected individuals.

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

A team led by James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at the London tropical medicine school, previously demonstrated that socks worn by infected children were more alluring to the little bloodsuckers, likely because the garments' odors contained more chemicals called aldehydes.

"The dogs are picking up the odors so quickly and easily that if you actually had people carrying malaria parasites they'd probably have a really big odor signal".

The dogs correctly identified 70 per cent of malaria-infected samples and correctly identify 90 per cent of samples without malaria parasites. Border patrol dogs capable of picking up the scent of malaria may be able to identify potential carriers better than other means - though the approach has not been field-tested.

A research conducted by Durham University, The Gambia, revealed that dogs could detect malaria even if infected persons are yet to show symptoms.

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In addition, Lindsay believes training dogs to detect specific scents associated with malaria also could inform work underway to develop artificial "electronic noses" or "e-noses" that can diagnose diseases based on smell. By flagging suspected travelers, these sniffer dogs could prevent malaria from spreading between countries and help infected people get earlier treatment.

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

This is not only an extraordinary medical breakthrough, but it reinforces the notion that all dogs are very good boys indeed. Current diagnostic methods are also time-consuming because they require blood samples to be taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.

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

SOCK sniffing pooches are being trained to spot signs of maleria and help lead the fight against the deadly disease.

The idea is to eradicate the disease by using the trained dogs at airports to check the spread of the disease. "We also know that malaria mosquitoes prefer to feed on malaria patients, which they nearly certainly identify by their odour", the researcher told media.

'This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future'.

Researchers said that travellers can be screened by dogs at ports entering areas that are malaria free but susceptible to re-invasion. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless.

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