Sniffer dogs could be used in the fight against malaria thanks to research being carried out by Professor Steve Lindsay, a public health entomologist and his team at Durham University.
Professor Lindsay’s research involved asking schoolchildren in the Gambia to wear nylon socks overnight and give a blood sample that was screened for signs of malaria. The socks were then frozen and sent to the UK where initially two dogs – a Labrador and a Labrador-retriever cross – were trained over several months to detect whether the socks had been worn by children with malaria or not. The dogs were able to correctly identify 70% of the malaria-infected sock samples and correctly recognised socks worn by uninfected children in 90% of cases.
The aim is to one day use the specially trained dogs in airports to find carriers of malaria in an effort to eradicate the disease.
The research also involves the charity Medical Detection Dogs, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of Dundee, the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the National Malaria Control Programme, The Gambia. It was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“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”