"This could also ensure that people, many of whom might be unaware they are infected with the malaria parasite, receive antimalarial treatment for the disease", said Professor Steve Lindsay from the department of biosciences at Durham University.
Researchers said their findings could potentially lead to the first rapid and non-invasive test for malaria. Since 2000, there has been a 60 per cent plunge in malarial death rates, and yet nearly half of the world's population is still at risk, shows a 2015 World Health Organization report.
Logan, in a media release issued by the research team, said progress against malaria has stalled in recent years and could be accelerated through innovative tools to detect the infection. Current diagnostic methods are also time-consuming because they require blood samples to be taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.
Their findings are being presented October 29 at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The sock samples were transported to the Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) 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.
Scientists at Durham University, Medical Detection Dogs and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, along with counterparts in Gambia received a grant by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to commission research into the possibility.
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The dogs were able to identify 70%.
Study co-author Dr Claire Guest, Chief Executive Officer of Medical Detection Dogs, said: 'This is the first time we have trained dogs to detect a parasite infection and we are delighted by these early results. Besides, labs are not required and many samples can be tested in field like setting. The downside is that you can't force every global traveler to submit to a blood test.
Dogs are known for their powerful sniffing abilities. And once you've taught (the dogs). those rules you then start with the disease you want them to find. Every disease smells different to a dog. It could be from the parasite itself or perhaps the body's reaction to the parasite. However, Odom John says, the malaria parasite has a similar organelle to one found on plants that produces odorous compounds-"the thing that makes pine trees smell like pine trees or lemons smell like lemons".
However, Lindsay and his colleagues said their work was only created to be a "proof of concept study" to show that malaria diagnosis by dogs is possible.
It's still early days for the research, and the teams now want to conduct much larger trials to see if dogs can directly sniff out malaria in people, not just clothing samples.
A final complicating factor is that there is more than one type of malaria.
"So for countries that have eliminated, it's a really interesting potential new way they could protect their borders and keep their countries malaria free".