The most valuable asset for a doctor is his nose. Since ancient times, medics depend on their sense of smell to aid in diagnosing their patients with the various illnesses. For example, fruity odours on the breath let doctors keep an eye on the condition of diabetics meanwhile foul odours signify the diagnosis of respiratory-tract infections. However, there is only so much doctors can smell since majority compounds characteristics of disease are unscented. 

Professor Logan, Head of the Disease Control Department at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), believe that the timeworn tradition could be a robust tool to win the fight against malaria by detecting infected individuals in populations with low malaria prevalence, and treating them with antimalarials. It was hence, hypothesised that dogs are able to detect people carrying malaria parasites from used socks of school children through their highly advanced sense of smell. Proven with its high accuracy rate at sniffing out various cancers, Parkinson’s disease and informing individuals that their blood sugar is low, this hypothesis is put to test. 

A group of evidently healthy children were given nylon socks to wear overnight and the socks were frozen before being transported to the Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) charity. Simultaneously, these children went through a blood test to see whether they are infected with the malaria parasites after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

Two trained Golden Retriever dogs discerned the scent of infected children and those uninfected, and successfully identified 80% of the samples – which is higher than WHO’s benchmark for successful diagnostic tests. The test result accuracy is possibly higher as the school children may have exchanged socks or shared a bed, hence confusing the results. 

Just last year alone, WHO recorded 228 million Malaria cases worldwide. According to Professor Logan, the trained dogs can be stationed at borders and ports as a non-intrusive method to screen travellers. Those infected with the malaria parasites can be treated with anti-malarial drugs immediately, so the spread of the disease can be curbed.