MALARIA BREAKTHROUGH: Sniffer dogs trained to detect disease in children

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MALARIA BREAKTHROUGH: Sniffer dogs trained to detect disease in children

Researchers found that dogs could scent malaria in samples of socks worn by infected children. Researchers, who showed for the first time that dogs are able to smell malaria in socks worn by children who had the disease, hope that their findings will lead to a new fast and non-invasive diagnosis. You could screen healthy-looking people who may be carrying the malaria parasite to prevent them from reintroducing the disease to an otherwise "clean" country.

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 is a mosquito-borne disease that caused roughly 445,000 deaths worldwide in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"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".

In total 175 sock samples were tested including those of all 30 malaria-positive children identified by the study and 145 uninfected children. They also correctly identified 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites.

Principal investigator Steve Lindsay, a professor in the department of biosciences at Durham University, said this showed a "credible degree of accuracy".

Dogs, they say, could offer a quick, non-invasive means to stop malaria parasites crossing boarders by positioning specially trained malaria-sniffing dogs at ports of entry. By flagging suspected travelers, these sniffer dogs could prevent malaria from spreading between countries and help infected people get earlier treatment.

The experimental study was presented Monday at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans, United States. At the very least, this latest research provides an important proof-of-principle showing that dogs might be useful for sniffing out malaria in some settings. Current diagnostic methods are also time-consuming because they require blood samples to be taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.

MDD chief executive Dr Claire Guest, who is co-author of the new study, said she was delighted by the early results which also augurs well in the battle against other tropical diseases.

"I believe that this study indicates that dogs have an excellent ability to detect malaria and if presented within an individual infected with the parasite or a piece of recently worn clothing, their accuracy levels will be extremely high".

Logan, in a media release issued by the research team, said progress against malaria has stalled in recent years and could be accelerated through innovative tools to detect the infection. However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa.

Guest noted that malaria is both preventable and curable, saying that her team's research is aimed at harnessing the wonderful power of a dog's nose to prevent the disease. It costs a lot to produce.

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