Sniffer dogs can now detect malaria in socks used by humans

Springer Spaniel Freya who has been trained to detect malaria

Image Springer spaniel Freya has been trained to detect malaria

Researchers say they are hoping they can now move on to the next step, seeing if dogs can sniff out the parasite not just on socks but directly in humans themselves.

New research shows that dogs can be trained to detect the malaria parasite in infected individuals using their keen sense of smell. 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. He said detection dogs would operate best at ports of entry into countries which eliminated malaria or are close to elimination.

The researchers said the accuracy of the dogs was impressive and they were identifying malaria infected children with lower levels of parasites than required to meet clinical standards for rapid diagnostic tests set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Our results suggest that sniffer dogs could be a serious way to make diagnosis of people who don't show any symptoms but are still infectious, quicker and easier", said James Logan, co-author of the study and head of the department of disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

A team of researchers in the United Kingdom announced on Monday the results of their study that shows dogs can scent malaria infected people from their odour.

The dogs sniffed nylon socks worn by 30 children infected with malaria parasites and 145 uninfected children.

Researchers say artificial odor sensors could someday be developed, but for now, trained dogs could be a new resource in the global fight against malaria. Although their research is still in the early stages, they believe trained dogs could someday be used to help diagnose malaria more quickly and prevent it from spreading across national borders.

The new project, presented this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting, has shown how dogs can be trained to sniff out the scent of malaria.

The smelly footwear arrived at the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes. Since the initial study a third dog, a springer-spaniel called Freya, has also been trained. New approaches would go a long way to addressing the detection problem, and by outcome, reducing the rate of malaria transmissions.

"This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results. This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future".

Dr Chelci Squires, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC: "Dogs are actually nature's super-smellers so it is a great gift to have them".

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And although some countries have seen a decrease in malaria, other countries in Africa as well as in the Americas, Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific saw increases between 2014 and 2016, according to the WHO.

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