Published: Thu, November 01, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Dogs Can Be Trained To Detect Malaria In People

Dogs Can Be Trained To Detect Malaria In People

Trained "sniffer dogs" can successfully detect a distinctive odor emitted by malaria parasites on human clothing, according to research presented October 28 at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans. 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. Ultimately, said Lindsay, he'd like to see malaria-detection dogs help patrol airports and seaports of countries that have recently become malaria-free and help root out the last few cases of malaria in a country.

But there are still an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, an increase of five million cases over the previous year and it kills 445,000.

The research was a collaboration between The National Malaria Control Programme in The Gambia; the Medical Research Council Unit, The Gambia; Medical Detection Dogs; Durham University; the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Dundee.

The animals from Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) in Milton Keynes were able to identify the presence of the parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes in socks worn by African children with remarkable accuracy. They also correctly identified 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites.

Lindsay says the sniffer dogs could be helpful in ports of entry to countries that have eradicated malaria, but where Anopheles mosquitoes, which spread the parasite, are still present. Detecting people who are carriers of the malaria parasite but not yet having symptoms is considered crucial to get timely drug therapy and prevent further spread of the disease.

Steven Lindsay, a public health entomologist from Durham University, said the dogs had trouble detecting malaria-infected socks from children that didn't have malaria parasites reproducing asexually inside their bodies.

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Study co-author Dr Claire Guest, Chief Executive Officer of Medical Detection Dogs, said: 'This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results.

Confirmation of the disease would then be made by taking a finger-prick blood sample.

Earlier, independent studies have indicated that dogs may also be trained to detect certain cancers and diabetes. 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. However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa.

The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, founded in 1903, is the largest international scientific organization of experts dedicated to reducing the worldwide burden of tropical infectious diseases and improving global health.

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

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