Friday, 18 January, 2019

Researchers say dogs can be trained to sniff out malaria

Dogs Can Be Trained To Detect Malaria In People- Study Sniff dog
Gustavo Carr | 01 November, 2018, 19:47

"People with malaria smell differently", Lindsay told VOA, so he thought, why not see if dogs could detect tiny traces of the disease. As of 2016, almost half of the world's population was at risk of contracting the disease. Deaths stood at approximately 445,000, a similar number to the previous year. Researchers used a finger-prick test to see if the children had the malaria parasite known as Plasmodium falciparum in their blood. The next day, the socks were collected.

The vials all contain pieces cut from socks, one of which belonged to a child carrying the malaria parasite. Only socks from children with malaria who did not have fever were selected, as were the socks from the children who were uninfected. "This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection", Claire West, CEO with Medical Detection Dogs.

The socks were sent to the Medical Detection Dogs, a charity in the United Kingdom where trainers taught a Labrador-Golden Retriever cross called Lexi and a Labrador called Sally to distinguish between the scents of infected and uninfected children.

The controlled lab-based trials found the dogs had a success rate of about 70 percent when spotting the malaria-infected samples and 90 percent success rate for identifying samples without malaria.

"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".

'This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future'. "And it may be possible to pick someone out from a crowd that's infected with malaria parasites".

The goal, according to Lindsay, is to further testing in countries where there might be different types of malaria parasites.

In this way, trained dogs could provide a potentially life-saving service.

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"If a mosquito can do it", Lindsay said, "why not a dog?" "So that allows them to have a higher accuracy".

The fight against malaria has been long and challenging.

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.

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, but it can be prevented and cured.

"The opportunity to use trained dogs for this objective is promising".

Cases of malaria are on the rise, globally. For example dogs could detect people carrying malaria parasites in southern Africa or in places like the East African island of Zanzibar, where efforts to eliminate malaria are complicated by a steady stream of visitors arriving from the mainland where malaria remains common.

With additional research, dogs might be able to help health professionals detect signs of malaria and other infectious diseases in the future.

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. It's especially prevalent in Africa, but it's not limited to the continent.