Dogs have officially gone from ‘man’s best friend’ status to hero status, if this news is anything to go by. Our four-legged friends have successfully managed to sniff out the scent of malaria, which could mean they hold the key to detecting the disease and preventing its spread.
Freya, an adorable springer spaniel (pictured below), is one of the dogs who has been trained to sniff out the scent of the deadly disease transmitted to humans by mosquitos.
She forms part of a team of super sniffers at Medical Detection Dogs HQ, a charity based in Milton Keys. There, dogs are trained to sniff out all sorts of diseases including cancer.
Researchers used nylon socks to collect foot odour samples from children aged five to 14 in the Upper River Region of The Gambia in West Africa. Using a simple finger-prick test, the children were then screened to determine if they had a malaria parasite in their blood.
Their sock samples were transported to Medical Detection Dogs where dogs were trained to distinguish between the scent of children infected with malaria parasites and those who were uninfected.
A total of 175 sock samples were tested including those of all 30 malaria-positive children identified by the study and 145 from uninfected children.
Incredibly, the dogs were able to correctly identify 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples. They also correctly identified 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites.
Researchers said the findings could potentially lead to the first rapid and non-invasive test for malaria and, while it’s still early stages, they have high hopes that sniffer dogs could one day be deployed at ports of entry to identify passengers carrying malaria.
This would help prevent the spread of the disease across borders and ensure people receive timely antimalarial treatment.
Lead researcher Professor Steve Lindsay, from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, said: “While our findings are at an early stage, in principle we have shown that dogs could be trained to detect malaria infected people by their odour with a credible degree of accuracy.”