Dogs can be trained to sniff out malaria

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The socks were then brought to the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes, where Lexi, a Labrador-Golden Retriever cross and Sally, a Labrador, were trained to distinguish between the scent of children infected with malaria parasites and those uninfected.

Identifying people infected with the malaria parasite, but not presenting symptoms, is critical as they can be treated with antimalarial drugs and the spread of the disease can be prevented.

Latest figures show that in 2016 there were 216 million cases worldwide, resulting in an estimated 445,000 deaths.

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.

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.

Lindsay said the experiment began in The Gambia where several hundred school children, who had been recruited to join the trial, were checked for overall general health, sampled for malaria parasites and fitted with a pair of socks that they were asked to wear overnight.

Scientists have only recently understood patients with malaria parasites have a unique odour or "chemical footprint", and researchers chose to test whether dogs' highly-sensitive noses could detect this. Meanwhile, the team trained the dogs to freeze is they identified malaria.

It's this same odor the dogs are likely to be smelling, said Professor Steve Lindsay, Principle Investigator of the study from Durham University.

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In addition, Lindsay believes training dogs to detect specific scents associated with malaria also could inform work underway to develop artificial "electronic noses" or "e-noses" that can diagnose diseases based on smell.

A team of researchers say they have trained a special set of dogs to sniff out malaria parasites on clothes, the aim of which is to help physicians in the effective diagnosis and treatment of the tropical disease.

The research is being presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans, US. After initial detection of malaria by dogs, it can be followed by a quick test by taking a blood sample from the finger to confirm whether a person is actually infected.

It suggests dogs could become another weapon in the fight against the disease which, despite significant reductions in the number of cases in the past two decades, remains the biggest killer of children under five in Africa.

Scientists found trained sniffer dogs were up to 70 per cent accurate in detecting the deadly disease.

The researchers plan to improve the skills of the animals, teaching them to find the parasites causing the disease in the early stages. "This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future". Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless.

Dogs can help professionals to identify malaria.

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