New research has found that dogs, like Freya, could be trained to sniff out malaria in people and help to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
Researchers found that dogs could scent malaria in samples of socks worn by infected children.
Principal Investigator Professor Steve Lindsay, in the Department of Biosciences, Durham University, UK, 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.
Researchers from the Medical Research Council Unit, The Gambia and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine used 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 charity in Milton Keynes, UK, where dogs 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 those of all 30 malaria-positive children identified by the study and 145 from uninfected children.
The dogs were able to correctly identify 70 per cent of the malaria-infected samples. The dogs were also able to correctly identify 90 per cent of the samples without malaria parasites.
According to the WHO’s latest World Malaria Report, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, an increase of five million cases over the previous year. Deaths stood at approximately 445,000, a similar number to the previous year.