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Dogs can nail malaria in people without signs

01 November 2018

The researchers don't know exactly how the dogs detect malaria, but Lindsay said it's probably due to organic compounds, called aldehydes, that most people emit through their skin.

Recent research shows that dogs may be able to sniff out malaria through their acute sense of smell, thereby saving thousands of lives through quick and non-invasive detection, according to a news report.

Research has shown that people infected with malaria have a distinct scent which draws mosquitoes that spread the disease.

Said to be one of the greatest public health success stories, global malaria control may get a shot in the arm if countries can strategically use dogs to sniff and detect malaria-infected individuals.

A team led by James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at the London tropical medicine school, previously demonstrated that socks worn by infected children were more alluring to the little bloodsuckers, likely because the garments' odors contained more chemicals called aldehydes.

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.

A total of 175 sock samples were tested, including 30 malaria-positive children in The Gambia and 145 from uninfected children.

"I believe that this study indicates that dogs have an excellent ability to detect malaria and if presented within an individual infected with the parasite or a piece of recently worn clothing, their accuracy levels will be extremely high".

If the dogs could not detect the malaria parasites they moved onto the next one. The majority of people with malaria at any time are perfectly healthy walking parasite factories, and without knowing they are infected, these healthy carriers can easily spread the disease to new regions and new people who might not be so fortunate. At the very least, this latest research provides an important proof-of-principle showing that dogs might be useful for sniffing out malaria in some settings. It means that we can tick off malaria from the list of things that dogs can identify with the 220m olfactory receptors in their noses.

"Dogs are capable of being trained to detect malaria with a reliable degree of accuracy".

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

"This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results". To identify this disease in dogs, it takes two to fifteen minutes. However, in the future this work needs to be expanded with more samples tested from different parts of Africa.

They have trained dogs to recognise tell-tale aromas using clothes from people infected with the disease. It costs a lot to produce.

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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Dogs can nail malaria in people without signs