A new study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Durham University, Medical Detection Dogs and the University of Dundee has found that dogs could detect malaria on a person by sniffing their socks.

The research hypothesised that their findings could lead to this test being the first-line non-invasive test for malaria, as it could stop the disease from being spread between countries. Therefore, people could be stopped and treated quicker.

What did the study involve?

School Children between ages 5-14 in Gambia were asked to wear nylon socks overnight and then have a blood sample taken for indications of malaria. The socks were stored away and frozen before being sent to the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes.

Labradors at the charity had been trained over several months to detect the differences in odour between socks infected with the malaria parasite, and those that were not. Out of the 175 sock samples that were tested, 30 were malaria positive and 145 were malaria-free. The socks that were malaria-positive also came from children who were asymptomatic.

The socks were placed individually in glass jars in several stages, and the dogs would pause at a sock that contained signs of malaria, which is the action they were taught to perform.

What were the results?

The results show that the dogs were successful in identifying socks that had been worn by children with malaria 70% of the time, and also correctly identified uninfected socks 90% of the time.

It was also reported that the dogs could make their detections 20 minutes faster than the current rapid diagnostic tests.

This is a potentially revolutionary breakthrough in diagnosing deadly diseases, especially considering that malaria cases increased by 5 million worldwide in 2016, according to the latest global health report by WHO. However the researchers are adamant that the accuracy of this method would need to improve to be able to use it in a practical way. They also suggested that it would be interesting to research further to find out if different species of malaria can be detected.

You can find clips and more information on the study here: