Dogs Are Being Trained to Sniff Out Diseases in People in Effort to Stop Global Spread of Contagions

Freya, a springer spaniel, is in training to detect malaria parasites in sock samples taken from children in Gambia. Two canine cohorts were used in a study on malaria detection. (Durham University/Medical Detection Dogs/London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
Freya, a springer spaniel, is in training to detect malaria parasites in sock samples taken from children in Gambia. Two canine cohorts were used in a study on malaria detection. (Durham University/Medical Detection Dogs/London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)

Several years ago, British entomologist Steve Lindsay landed at an American airport and was immediately struck by all the furry creatures walking around the baggage claim area.

“I was astounded to see sniffer dogs, looking for fruits and vegetables,” says Lindsay, who studies malaria at Durham University in the U.K.

Recent studies have found that people carrying malaria release a signature scent. “So I thought, ‘Well, if a dog can smell fruits and vegetables in luggage, could they smell malaria in a person?’ ” Lindsay says.

So he set out to create the ultimate disease watchdogs — canines that can smell parasites living inside people.

Then, as people hop off international flights, these watchdogs could take a few sniffs at each person’s skin and paw at the people who might be carrying a parasite. “The person can be taken aside and possibly tested for the disease with a blood test,” Lindsay explains.

Sound far-fetched? Well, it might not be as far from reality as you would think.

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SOURCE: MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF
NPR