Dogs could be trained to sniff out malaria, say Durham researchers

Leslie Hanson
November 1, 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.

Freya, a Springer Spaniel, is one of the dogs who has been trained to sniff out the scent of malaria, said researchers from Durham University in the UK.

Sally and Lexie correctly sniffed out the socks worn by children with malaria parasites 70pc of the time and those without 90pc of the time.

Public health entomologist Steve Lindsay at Durham University who led the project said this technique may help ensure that people who are unaware that they are infected with the malaria parasite receive timely treatment.

Researchers believe the odour given off by the malaria parasite is attracting the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

Researchers from Medical Research Council Unit at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine used nylon socks to collect foot odour samples from apparently healthy Gambian children, aged five to 14, while also screening them for the malaria parasite with a finger-prick blood test.

The children were screened for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in their blood using a simple finger-prick test.

The socks were sent to the Medical Detection Dogs, a charity in the United Kingdom where trainers taught a Labrador-Golden Retriever cross called Lexi and a Labrador called Sally to distinguish between the scents of infected and uninfected children. In recent tests trained sniffer dogs successfully diagnosed malaria infections simply by sniffing samples from socks worn briefly by children from a malaria endemic area of West Africa, according to a new study presented today at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual Meeting.


Dogs have been shown to indicate correctly seven out of 10 samples from infected children. The dogs could also detect which samples did not contain malaria with 90 percent accuracy.

According to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) latest World Malaria Report, there are an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, an increase of five million cases over the previous year.

New tools to detect, treat and prevent malaria are needed as progress is stalling. Similarly, a handful of other studies have shown that dogs can hound out diseases like cancer by detecting the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with certain cancers in the breath or urine of people with the disease.

The animals could also prevent the disease spreading between countries, they add. Ultimately, said Lindsay, he'd like to see malaria-detection dogs help patrol airports and seaports of countries that have recently become malaria-free and help root out the last few cases of malaria in a country. "This is a reliable, non-invasive test and is extremely exciting for the future".

James Logan, a co-author on the study and the head of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

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"So for countries that have eliminated, it's a really interesting potential new way they could protect their borders and keep their countries malaria free".

Dogs are known for their powerful sniffing abilities.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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