Dogs can detect malaria by sniffing socks of infected people


Another avenue of research that needs to be explored is whether the smell is consistent across populations, so Lindsay plans to test people from all over Africa to see if the dogs can recognize malaria among their scents, too.

Research has shown that people infected with malaria have a distinct scent which draws mosquitoes that spread the disease.

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

The disease infected around 216 million people worldwide in 2016 and killed 445,000 of them.

Scientists at Durham University, Medical Detection Dogs and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, along with counterparts in Gambia received a grant by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to commission research into the possibility.

A team of researchers in the United Kingdom announced on Monday the results of their study that shows dogs can scent malaria infected people from their odour.

The animals from Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) in Milton Keynes were able to identify the presence of the parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes in socks worn by African children with remarkable accuracy.

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The dogs were able to correctly identify 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples. They were also able to correctly identify 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites, researchers said.

According to the researchers, artificial odour sensors might be developed in the future to detect malaria parasites, but until then, trained dogs could be a useful alternative at ports of entry. Detecting people who are carriers of the malaria parasite but not yet having symptoms is considered crucial to get timely drug therapy and prevent further spread of the disease. The study's results were presented at the annual scientific meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans on Monday.

Now, the latest research demonstrates that dogs can detect the disease quickly and accurately. It means that we can tick off malaria from the list of things that dogs can identify with the 220m olfactory receptors in their noses.

Alternatively, health workers can use any number of "rapid diagnostic tests", which involve dropping a pinprick of blood on a small device. 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.

She added: "This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results". Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless.

Dogs are known for their powerful sniffing abilities.

As for putting malaria detection dogs to work in the field, Lindsay said they could be helpful assistants in a malaria elimination campaign that requires treating anyone in a village or community who is still carrying malaria parasites, including those who are not showing symptoms.