Dogs may be able to detect Malaria in humans

Grant Boone
November 1, 2018

'This could provide a non-invasive way of screening for the disease at ports of entry in a similar way to how sniffer dogs are routinely used to detect fruit and vegetables or drugs at airports. Health researchers are now tapping doggos to help detect major diseases, including malaria, in people who may or may not be infected.

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.

All children appeared healthy but some were carrying Plasmodium falciparum - the malaria parasite - which was determined by a finger-prick test.

Two dogs trained in Milton Keynes, a labrador-golden retriever cross called Lexi and a labrador called Sally, were able to identify children in the Gambia infected by the malaria parasite after sniffing their socks.

A total of 175 sock samples were tested including those of all 30 malaria-positive children identified by the study and 145 from uninfected children.

When it came to spotting malaria, the results, presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, showed dogs could pick out seven in 10 samples from infected children.

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. Anyone the dogs identify as having malaria could be asked to submit a blood test to confirm infection, which would be costly and time-consuming; plus even blood tests aren't foolproof.

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The World Health Organization said there were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, up five million over a year earlier. They reached their findings by training a number of dogs in the United Kingdom to identify the presence of malaria. Our four-legged friends have successfully managed to sniff out the scent of malaria, which could mean they hold the key to detecting the disease and preventing its spread.

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

An accompanying study introduced a fake biodetection dog to Gambian villages to gauge their acceptability, with researchers reporting that most people were favourably disposed to their use in principle.

This is not only an extraordinary medical breakthrough, but it reinforces the notion that all dogs are very good boys indeed.

The dogs were able to identify 70%. Recent studies by other research teams have found that the skin of people infected with malaria emit higher levels of these aldehydes. However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa.

"New approaches to facilitate the identification of infected individuals to be treated would help enormously in addressing the human reservoir of infection and possibly reduce malaria transmission".

The researchers plan to improve the skills of the animals, teaching them to find the parasites causing the disease in the early stages.

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