Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Dogs can be trained to sniff out malaria

Malaria sniffed out by dogs in sock-smelling trial VIDEO: Scientists train dogs to sniff out malaria on clothes
Ben Pena | 01 November, 2018, 20:30

Researchers say they are hoping they can now move on to the next step, seeing if dogs can sniff out the parasite not just on socks but directly in humans themselves.

Trained "sniffer dogs" can successfully detect a distinctive odor emitted by malaria parasites on human clothing, according to research presented October 28 at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

Malaria kills some 445,000 people worldwide each year, and is caused by parasites that are transmitted by infected mosquitoes.

It was carried out by Durham University, the charity Medical Detection Dogs, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of Dundee (all UK), the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the National Malaria Control Programme, The Gambia.

A total of 175 sock samples were tested, including those of 30 malaria-positive children identified by the study using finger-prick tests and 145 from uninfected children.

The project to train dogs to identify people infected with malaria parasites was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation under its Grand Challenges Exploration initiative that seeks novel ideas to address global health and development issues. When the dogs failed to identify a malaria-positive child, it was often a child infected with the sexual stage of the malaria parasite, which Lindsay says may have changed the odor.

Dogs can be trained to do malaria diagnosis, which can be exploited in the future to contain the spread of the disease, according to British scientists.

Researchers believe the odor given off by the malaria parasite is attracting the mosquitoes which then spread the disease.

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Results of this preliminary investigation, the details of which were disclosed at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans, suggests dogs can, in fact, sniff out the disease in infected individuals.

The team said 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.

SOCK sniffing pooches are being trained to spot signs of maleria and help lead the fight against the deadly disease. Recent studies by other research teams have found that the skin of people infected with malaria emit higher levels of these aldehydes.

The aim is to one day use specially trained dogs at airports and ports to curb the spread of the disease. New approaches would go a long way to addressing the detection problem, and by effect, reducing the rate of malaria transmissions. However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa.

Dr Chelci Squires, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC: "Dogs are actually nature's super-smellers so it is a great gift to have them".

We do not charge or put articles behind a paywall.

Malaria is a complex disease that won't be eradicated easily, even with the help of our four-legged friends.

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