Dogs can be trained to do malaria diagnosis, which can be exploited in the future to contain the spread of the disease, according to British scientists. Researchers, who showed for the first time that dogs are able to smell malaria in socks worn by children who had the disease, hope that their findings will lead to a new fast and non-invasive diagnosis.
Scientists, headed by Professor Steve Lindsey of the Department of Life Sciences, University of Durham, who made the relevant announcement at the annual conference of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans, said that although the research – funded by the Bill Foundation Melinda Gates is still at an early stage, hoping that trained dogs will be a new weapon in the fight against the spread of malaria from one country to another, facilitating early detection and, therefore, yteri treatment of new cases.
“Dogs are capable of being trained to detect malaria with a reliable degree of accuracy. They could thus be used in the entry gates of a country, in a similar way eg. who detect drugs at airports, “said Lindsey.
Malaria is caused by a pest (Plasmodium falciparum) in the blood, which is transmitted through the stinging of infected mosquitoes. Experiments with two dogs showed that animals were able to correctly smell 70% of cases of malaria and 90% of those without the parasite.
Despite progress, according to the World Health Organization, there were about 216 million malaria incidents in 2016, five million more than in 2015, with deaths reaching 445,000. Detecting people who are carriers of the malaria parasite but not yet having symptoms is considered crucial to get timely drug therapy and prevent further spread of the disease.
In the future it is likely that electronic sensors will be developed – sensors that will mimic the dogs, but until then the dogs themselves are a very satisfactory solution. 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.
Scientists are also optimistic that dogs can be trained to smell and other tropical diseases, for which diagnosis to date is poor, such as leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis.