Monday, 19 November, 2018

Dogs detect malaria by sniffing children's socks

Malaria sniffed out by dogs in sock-smelling trial VIDEO: Scientists train dogs to sniff out malaria on clothes
Melissa Porter | 01 November, 2018, 20:33

During the research, sniffer dogs were made to sniff the socks worn for 24 hours by children in The Gambia.

"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", Principal Investigator Professor Steve Lindsay, from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

Research has shown that people infected with malaria have a distinct scent which draws mosquitoes that spread the disease. He said detection dogs would operate best at ports of entry into countries which eliminated malaria or are close to elimination.

In 2016, an estimated 445,000 global deaths were attributed to malaria, according to the World Health Organization.

The dogs were trained to distinguish between the scent of children infected with malaria parasites and those who were uninfected. "That is unlikely because they weren't able to identify the sexual parasites - that says to me that they actually know the parasites rather than the person".

"And it's these odor that are probably coming out that mosquitoes can detect", said Professor Steve Lindsay, Principle Investigator of the study from Durham University.

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. The majority of people with malaria at any time are perfectly healthy walking parasite factories, and without knowing they are infected, these healthy carriers can easily spread the disease to new regions and new people who might not be so fortunate.

Their findings are being presented October 29 at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Steven Lindsay, a public health entomologist from Durham University, said the dogs had trouble detecting malaria-infected socks from children that didn't have malaria parasites reproducing asexually inside their bodies.

In a lab room, two-year-old springer spaniel Freya bustles along a row of vials positioned on stands, sniffing each for signs of disease. The research team observed if the dogs would pause at any of the socks, which is what the dogs were trained to do if a sock was worn by someone infected by the disease.

"They are much faster than existing rapid diagnostic tests which can take up to 20 minutes and require a fully trained professional to do". However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa. New approaches would go a long way to addressing the detection problem, and by outcome, reducing the rate of malaria transmissions. James Logan from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine all worked on the project.

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It is hoped the animals can be used to stop malaria spreading and eventually help with eradication.

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