Malaria, caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes, can be prevented and cured with drugs. The experiment at Milton Keynes charity Medical Detection Dogs in the UK was successful. Labrador-golden retriever cross Lexi and labrador Sally were trained to identify malaria. Later, more dogs were introduced in the research. The dogs were trained to recognise tell-tale aromas using clothes from people infected with the disease. They caught 70% of infected samples and identified 90% without malaria parasites. “This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection.
The potential to train dogs to detect tropical disease where ¬diagnostics are poor is huge,” MDD chief and study co-author Dr Claire Guest said. There were an estimated 216 million malaria cases in 2016. Special trained dogs could help save millions of lives globally. They can do the work even at airports in Africa, the region where most of the half-million malaria deaths a year are recorded. The research is still at an early stage. Lead researcher Prof Steve Lindsay, from Durham University, said he was “really excited” by the findings so far, but that dogs were not yet ready to be used more routinely.