Dogs sniff out malaria in people, study finds

01 November, 2018, 20:33 | Author: Kara Nash
  • Freya one of the dogs who took part in the initial training

Dogs have been trained to sniff out certain kinds of cancer and sugar changes in diabetes patients, but this is the first time they've been trained to detect a parasite infection.

Recent research shows that dogs may be able to sniff out malaria through their acute sense of smell, thereby saving thousands of lives through quick and non-invasive detection, according to a news report.

Malaria is caused by a pest (Plasmodium falciparum) in the blood, which is transmitted through the stinging of infected mosquitoes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since 2000 six countries have been certified malaria free, with another 12 countries reporting that no malaria cases have originated within their borders.

In 2016, there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide, an increase of 5 million over the previous year.

A team led by James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at the London tropical medicine school, previously demonstrated that socks worn by infected children were more alluring to the little bloodsuckers, likely because the garments' odors contained more chemicals called aldehydes.

It was learned that a total of 175 sock samples were tested, including those of 30 malaria-positive children and 145 from uninfected children.

The researchers revealed that the dogs were able to correctly identify 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples and 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites.

But Lindsay said the dogs' success rate actually might have been higher-up to 78 percent-if the children with malaria were all carrying the same type of parasites.

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


The socks were then sent back to the United Kingdom and stored in a freezer while the dogs, provided by the Medical Detection Dogs charity, were trained. "We also know that malaria mosquitoes prefer to feed on malaria patients, which they nearly certainly identify by their odour", the researcher told media.

"They are much faster than existing rapid diagnostic tests which can take up to 20 minutes and require a fully trained professional to do".

The charity, founded in 2008, hopes the early-stage trials it is conducting will enable canines to join efforts to stamp out one of the world's most deadly diseases.

She added: "This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results".

Scientists are also optimistic that dogs can be trained to smell and other tropical diseases, for which diagnosis to date is poor, such as leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis. Alternately, articles of clothing would have to be removed and sniffed by the dogs, which is also not ideal.

'This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future'.

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Researchers said that travellers can be screened by dogs at ports entering areas that are malaria free but susceptible to re-invasion.

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