Researchers at Durham University said their findings could potentially lead to the first rapid and non-invasive test for malaria.


Although the research is in its early stages, scientists hope trained sniffer dogs could help to stop malaria spreading between countries and lead to infected people being identified earlier and treated quickly.

Principal investigator Professor Steve Lindsay, from Durham’s department of biosciences, said: “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.

“This could provide a non-invasive way of screening for the disease at ports of entry in a similar way to how sniffer dogs are routinely used to detect fruit and vegetables or drugs at airports.

“This could help prevent the spread of malaria to countries that have been declared malaria-free and also ensure that people, many of whom might be unaware that they are infected with the malaria parasite, receive antimalarial drug treatment for the disease.”

In 2016, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria - an increase of five million cases over the previous year - and an estimated 445,000 malaria deaths.

DOGS could be trained to sniff out malaria in people after trials showed the animals could smell the deadly disease in samples of socks worn by infected children.

The disease is caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, but it can be prevented and cured with antimalarial drugs.

The study saw researchers from the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine use nylon socks to collect foot odour samples from apparently healthy children aged five to 14 in the Upper River Region of The Gambia in West Africa.

Using a simple finger-prick test the children were also screened to determine if they had the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in their blood.


The sock samples were transported to the Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) charity in Milton Keynes, where two dogs, a Labrador-Golden Retriever cross called Lexi and a Labrador called Sally, were trained to distinguish between the scent of children infected with malaria parasites and those who were uninfected.

In total, 175 sock samples were tested including 30 from malaria-positive children identified by the study.

The dogs were able to correctly identify 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples and 90 per cent of the samples without the parasites.

Since the study a third dog, a springer spaniel called Freya, has also been trained to detect malaria.

The research is being presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans, US.


Dr Claire Guest, study co-author and MDD chief executive, said its dogs have also been able to detect cancer and diabetes sugar changes.

She added: “This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results.”