Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Dogs can be trained to sniff out malaria

Police Sniffer-dogs Police Sniffer-dogs
Delores Daniels | 01 November, 2018, 19:44

The researchers don't know exactly how the dogs detect malaria, but Lindsay said it's probably due to organic compounds, called aldehydes, that most people emit through their skin.

Scientists working with canine trainers have shown that dogs can be taught to scent malaria in people without signs of the infection, raising hopes for new and rapid non-invasive tests for malaria. Our four-legged friends have successfully managed to sniff out the scent of malaria, which could mean they hold the key to detecting the disease and preventing its spread.

Sally and Lexie correctly sniffed out the socks worn by children with malaria parasites 70pc of the time and those without 90pc of the time.

"While our findings are at an early stage, in principle we have shown that dogs could be trained to detect malaria infected people by their odour with a credible degree of accuracy", said Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University.

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In future artificial odour sensors might be developed to detect malaria parasites, but until then trained dogs could be a useful alternative at ports of entry.

Lindsay said the experiment began in The Gambia where several hundred school children, who had been recruited to join the trial, were checked for overall general health, sampled for malaria parasites and fitted with a pair of socks that they were asked to wear overnight. In total 175 sock were used, including 30 from malaria-positive children.

Chelsi Squires, a research scientist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Sky News: "When you are malaria positive and you actually have that infection, what the parasite does, is it changes your body odour, so your body odour is the way that mosquitoes are able to detect you and able find you as a blood source". Currently, the only way to address the problem of "asymptomatic" carriers-who still can cause new infections by passing along their malaria parasites to the local mosquito population-is to test or treat an entire community.

But progress in fighting the disease worldwide has stalled; there were 216 million malaria cases across the globe in 2016, five million more than the year before. In the past, similar studies trained dogs to detect cancer and diabetes. Recent studies by other research teams have found that the skin of people infected with malaria emit higher levels of these aldehydes. Ultimately, said Lindsay, he'd like to see malaria-detection dogs help patrol airports and seaports of countries that have recently become malaria-free and help root out the last few cases of malaria in a country.

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The research is being presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans. "This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future".

The animals could also prevent the disease spreading between countries, they add.

"Our results show that sniffer dogs could be a serious way of making a diagnosis of people who don't show any symptoms, but are still infectious, quicker, and easier", said Prof. It costs a lot to produce.

Dogs are known for their powerful sniffing abilities.

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