Medical detection dogs sniff out malaria from smelly socks!
Exciting medical news shows dogs are proving their worth yet again, this time at the frontline of the war against disease. Specially trained dogs can already sniff out cancer, diabetes sugar changes and early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Now scientists in the UK and The Gambia believe dogs can also sniff out malaria.
Dogs are ‘super-smellers’ and once they had received specialist training to recognise the distinctive aroma of malaria, they were able to identify 7 out of 10 samples from the socks of children infected with the disease.
The dogs are able to sniff out the disease because the malaria parasite specifically changes our smell, making us more attractive to the mosquitoes responsible for spreading the disease.
Due to a dog’s incredible sense of smell, they can detect the odour of volatiles in a dilution of one part per trillion. This is equivalent to one drop of blood in one Olympic sized swimming pool of water.
In this study, the smell was presented to the dogs on nylon socks. The socks were worn overnight by children in The Gambia, carefully packaged up and sent from West Africa to Milton Keynes, where the Medical Detection Dogs charity is based. For more information on our visit to this incredible charity please click here
Lexi, a golden retriever cross and Sally, a Labrador, were trained to distinguish between the smell of children affected and those unaffected.
To verify the accuracy of the dogs diagnosis, the children were also screened using the conventional finger-prick blood test.
Jo Malone is a supporter of the Medical Detection Dogs
Of the 175 pairs of socks received, thirty had been worn by children with malaria. Lexi and Sally correctly identified 90% of the samples without malaria and 70% of the samples with malaria.
Scientists say although the dog’s’ accuracy needs fine-tuning the overall findings were encouraging. They will look into whether dogs could eventually differentiate between different types of malaria.
Using dogs as medical diagnostic tools is non-invasive and much quicker than the conventional test, which requires a trained professional taking a blood sample and takes twenty minutes. It also means whole communities can be screened more efficiently.
The specially trained dogs could be used at airports to screen carriers of the disease without symptoms, enabling them to get earlier treatment for the condition. It would also help prevent the spread of malaria across borders.
Once a sniffer dog has identified a possible malaria carrier, this could then be confirmed by a conventional finger-prick blood test.
Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people when bitten by an infected female mosquito. It can be prevented by and treated with antimalarial drugs.
According to the World Health Organisation, nearly half the world’s population is at risk from malaria.
The latest figures on the disease demonstrates an estimated 216 million cases a year – an increase in 5 million new cases – as well as 445,000 malaria deaths.
Little wonder then that scientists are excited by the latest breakthrough using detection dogs – it could be crucial in helping to eradicate this deadly disease.
Written by Emma Hammett from FirstAidforPets.net First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course or take our online course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.