A study has shown that dogs can detect malaria by sniffing a person’s socks!
The man behind the research is Steven Lindsay, an entomologist at Durham University. Steven told the Guardian that “Many countries are getting near elimination or have achieved elimination – for example, recently Sri Lanka became malaria-free, which is an extraordinary achievement. The question then is how do you keep the place malaria-free, because the mosquitoes aren’t going away.”
Malaria can often go undetected
The problem, Steven continues, is that malaria can often go undetected: “If you have one in 1,000 people with a malaria parasite, you can’t finger-prick and take blood from 1,000 people to identity that one.”
Knowing that people infected with malaria can produce odours in their breath and skin, Steven turned to our canine friends for some expert help.
Steven asked children in the Gambia (where over 4% of all death is caused by Malaria) to wear nylon socks and then provide a blood sample to be tested for malaria. The socks were sent back to the UK, and a pair of labradors were trained to know which socks had been worn by children with the disease.
The power of a dog’s nose
The dogs were then presented with a new batch of socks, and the results were pretty amazing! Both dogs identified socks worn by children with malaria 70% of the time, while the success rate for recognising socks worn by uninfected children was 90%.
A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times stronger than humans, and different studies have suggested they can use it to sniff out other diseases including urinary tract infections, Parkinson’s disease, and even cancer. Dogs are already helping diabetics to identify when their blood sugars are dangerously low. As blood sugar drops, the body emits subtle odours that our furry friends can detect.
Steven is keen to stress that more research needs to be done, but it looks like dogs could play a part in eradicating malaria forever.
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