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Dogs: The Next Detectors of Malaria?

When we hear the word Malaria, many notions surge, none of them being too pleasant. It is a life-threatening disease that burdens global health by being responsible for the death of millions across the world. Scientists have been successfully able to find a cure for it. However, that is not the only problem when we face malaria. Being able to first find the carriers of this disease is also a significant issue. This is because if there is a certain immunity towards the disease, they can develop an infection, be able to pass it on and not develop any significant symptoms. Progress in the field of malaria has stalled during the past two years, with the number of diagnosis increasing. The delay of diagnosis is the main cause of death by this disease. How do we find all of them?

New research shows that dogs can diagnose the infection quickly, accurately and in a noninvasive way. “People with malaria parasites generate distinct odours on their skin. Our study found dogs, which have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell, can be trained to detect these odours even when it’s just on an article of clothing worn by an infected person,” says lead investigator for Durham University, Steven Lindsay. Statistics show that dogs sniff out 70% of the malaria cases.

The logic behind this is that the parasites give off a particular smell, which is different from someone that has not been bitten by the mosquito. Dogs can be trained to freeze or walk around depending on whether the smell is the one they want to look for.

There is still a lot of room for improvement as there are different stages when contracted malaria. The parasites go through many stages and when they reach a level of maturity the odour that is produced may be different. This increases the difficulty for the trained dogs.

However, Medical Detection dogs are an innovative way of applying an unexpected tool in the detection of malaria. This also shows that solutions for scientific and medical problems may come from the most unexpected of places. This also shows how important research and support is as the aim of eradicating malaria is once again within our reach.

Laura L, Year 12

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