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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – New research shows a dog’s sense of smell could become a powerful weapon in the battle against malaria. Dogs at Penn Vet in Philadelphia have been doing research on smelling cancer.
Now, British scientists say sniffer dogs there have been trained to detect the deadly disease malaria.
Two-year-old Freya is on the hunt and keeps sniffing until she smells her target.
The springer spaniel is detecting malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that infects more than 200 million people around the world every year.
“What we found was that dogs are able to detect a difference in the socks that have been worn by children who are infected with the malaria parasite and children who are malaria-free,” said Dr. Claire Guest.
British researchers collected socks from Gambia, in West Africa, some worn by children carrying the malaria parasite.
In trials, dogs were able to sniff out 70 percent of malaria-infected samples and 90 percent of those without the disease.
“The dogs are picking up the odors so quickly and easily that if you actually had people carrying malaria parasites, they’d probably have a really big odor signal,” said Professor Steve Lindsay.
Though in the early stages, scientists believe dogs could eventually be trained to smell the scent of the deadly disease on people.
“I think the best use of these dogs is at ports of entry, airports, seaports, or landports,” said Lindsay.
Experts say since mosquitoes won’t go away, it’s critical to identify people carrying malaria to stop the disease from spreading.
In addition to malaria and cancer, dogs can also be highly accurate at detecting prostate and thyroid cancer and alerting people with diabetes that they have low blood sugar.