Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Dogs can now detect malaria by sniffing

Lexie and Sally the two dogs who took part in the malaria study Lexie and Sally the two dogs who took part in the malaria study Credit Once upon a Pixel
Samantha Long | 01 November, 2018, 19:45

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.

Following this stage, the socks were frozen and sent to the United Kingdom, where two canines, including a Labrador-retriever cross mix and a Labrador, were trained for a period of time to detect if socks were worn by children with malaria or not.

The World Health Organization has more on malaria. Deaths stood at approximately 445,000, a similar number to the previous year.

Lindsay and his colleagues gave nylon socks to almost 600 children who had been tested for malaria in Gambia, where the disease is endemic, and asked them to wear them overnight. The next day, the socks were collected.

Dr. Guest said, "If this is what the dogs can do on a small piece of sock, I believe that detection levels could well exceed these results".

The dogs were trained to distinguish between the scent of children infected with malaria parasites and those who were uninfected. They were trained to sniff each sample and to freeze if they thought they detected malaria, or move on if they did not.

The dogs correctly identified 70 percent of children with malaria and 90 percent of uninfected children, according to a study presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in New Orleans.

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

'This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future'. Despite this they have warned that global progress against malaria is stalling and could be reversed if momentum in the fight to wipe it out was lost.

"Recent studies have shown that parasitized red blood cells grown in dishes produce odors". 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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In this way, trained dogs could provide a potentially life-saving service.

During the research, sniffer dogs were made to sniff the socks worn for 24 hours by children in The Gambia. Adding other smells to the suite of smells for the dog could improve its accuracy, she said. "So that allows them to have a higher accuracy". Malaria-detecting electronic noses are also one possible outcome of further research, he said.

A simple finger-prick test was also carried out on the youngsters to determine if they had the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in their blood.

Lindsay said detection dogs could be useful for, at the least, significantly narrowing the focus of clinical testing and treatment efforts.

Cases of malaria are on the rise, globally.

That doesn't mean that dogs wouldn't be effective at detecting a malaria infection.

If that proves out, malaria-sniffing dogs could be used as a first line of defense at ports of entry in countries like Gambia in West Africa, and Zanzibar, an island off the coast of East Africa, both of which have largely shut down the disease.

James Logan, a co-author on the study and the head of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"Our results show that sniffer dogs could be a serious way of making a diagnosis of people who don't show any symptoms, but are still infectious, quicker, and easier", said Prof.

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". It accomplishes this through generating and sharing scientific evidence, informing health policies and practices, fostering career development, recognizing excellence, and advocating for investment in tropical medicine/global health research.

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