Dogs Can Sniff Out Malaria From Kids' Sweaty Socks

Springer Spaniel Freya who has been trained to detect malaria

Image The dogs identified 70% of the socks worn by malaria-positive children

Dogs could potentially be used to detect malaria in people through smelling their socks, according to new research.

The animals can be trained to detect the scent of the malaria parasite, which is transmitted to people through the bites of the infected Anopheles mosquito, experts have said.

Latest figures show that in 2016 there were 216 million cases worldwide, resulting in an estimated 445,000 deaths.

It was carried out by Durham University, the charity Medical Detection Dogs, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of Dundee (all UK), the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the National Malaria Control Programme, The Gambia.

Although the research is in its early stages, scientists hope trained sniffer dogs could help to stop malaria spreading between countries and lead to infected people being identified earlier and treated quickly.

Socks from 145 uninfected children and 30 socks from malaria-infected children were collected for dog testing.

The dogs correctly identified 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples, as well as 90 per cent of those without the parasite. Border patrol dogs capable of picking up the scent of malaria may be able to identify potential carriers better than other means - though the approach has not been field-tested.

The researchers say sniffer dogs at ports and airports could be a quick, portable and non-invasive way to test people to see if they are carrying malaria.

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A team of researchers say they have trained a special set of dogs to sniff out malaria parasites on clothes, the aim of which is to help physicians in the effective diagnosis and treatment of the tropical disease. These socks were shipped to the United Kingdom where two dogs were trained to scent-detect malaria.

Since the initial study a third dog, a Springer Spaniel called Freya, has also been trained to detect malaria.

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

"This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results". However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa. Logan is head of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine's department of disease control. "It would have been easier, or more straightforward, to develop biomarkers of infection if we had found something that was really novel that was induced by malaria infection", said de Boer.

Real, independent, investigative journalism is in alarming decline. Alternately, articles of clothing would have to be removed and sniffed by the dogs, which is also not ideal.

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