Man’s best friend could be the best source for malaria detection in near future. Our uncompromising reliance on dogs for their loyalty and companionship takes us one step ahead in life with yet another feather to their cap!
Sniffer dogs are primarily used by the police department for tracking criminals using the dog’s impeccable sense of smell. German Shepherds and Labradors are the favorites among the four-legged sniffer dog forces. Although Glasgow was one of the first police forces in Britain to give charge to four-legged officers in 1910, Germany saw more police dogs than Glasgow. Till date, Scotland’s police dogs have earned a special place for themselves with the police force. When it comes to loyalty, pace, agility and withstanding ability a police dog remains top in the list. Now, these creatures might find themselves recruited in the healthcare industry too banking on their sniffing ability.
From Protecting to Saving Lives
Dogs are ready to take up challenges in the healthcare sectors only next to their role as protectors and saviors in the police forces. A new study shows that dogs could serve as a great tool in detecting malaria in humans using their sniffing ability. Malaria exists as a killer disease, especially in developing countries such as Africa and Asia where hundreds of thousands of lives are sacrificed each year. The parasites are quick and smart infecting as many people as possible and many of them roam around the cities without realizing their infection state. While these people remain healthy, they might spread the disease to other people and regions that are not-so-healthy. Read more about malaria and ways to safeguard yourself from this killer disease by visiting the website www.firsteatright.com.
The researchers say that some dogs were trained to identify malaria cases in humans simply by sniffing the person’s socks. Till now dogs have been used to detect certain cancers and diabetes in UK and this is the first time where dogs find their use in malaria detection. It is a known fact that people carrying malaria parasite have a unique smell that they carry with them and with a dog’s pronounces smelling ability, the creature must be able to smell this on a person’s clothes too.
The research team collected socks from 600 students aged between 5 and 13 years who did or did not have malaria. Of this, 175 samples were used to train the dogs (30 samples were of malaria-infected kids) for almost six months teaching them to differentiate between the samples that tested positive and negative for the disease. Post training, the dogs were able to identify 70% of malaria-infected children and 90% of healthy children by sniffing socks. The WHO proposes that a parasite diagnosis tool must be 75% accurate at 200 parasites per microliter but these dogs could sniff out children infected with very low parasite loads (10 to 20 parasites per microliter of blood). Though results are positive there are quite a few restrictions and we need more studies to confirm a dog’s use in detecting malaria.
Non-Invasive Method of Detection
If the study turns out to be successful under rigid testing scenarios this could be a wonderful and non-invasive way to detect malaria instead of pricking the person’s hand for blood samples. Dogs have millions of sensors in the nose and we can have more studies that can find out if dogs can directly sniff out malaria in infected people.
These dogs might be a worthy addition to countries where malaria has been almost eradicated and one is charged with the responsibility of preventing the entry of the parasite or the person with the parasite into these countries. It would be impossible to physically screen every person for malaria at airports and running a sniffer dog for the same could help us with answers in a jiffy. There is no guarantee for eradicating malaria with the help of dogs but only the advantage of detecting the disease and saving the lives of the affected.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.