Dogs Are Being Trained to Detect Malaria by Sniffing People's Socks

Courtesy of Medical Detection Dogs
Courtesy of Medical Detection Dogs

Dogs can find just about anything with their noses, including bombs, drugs, cadavers, bed bugs, and weirdly, whale poop. Now, man’s best friend is being trained to detect malaria in humans by simply sniffing their socks.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that caused roughly 445,000 deaths worldwide in 2016, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s especially prevalent in Africa, but it's not limited to the continent. As of 2016, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of contracting the disease.

While malaria is curable, initial symptoms may be mild or difficult to recognize. The disease can progress quickly and result in death if it’s not treated within the first 24 hours. Current diagnostic methods are also time-consuming because they require blood samples to be taken and sent off to a laboratory for testing.

In this way, trained dogs could provide a potentially life-saving service. A group of UK-based researchers say two trained dogs—a Labrador-golden retriever named Lexi and a Labrador named Sally—were able to pick up the scent of malaria on the socks of infected children from The Gambia in West Africa. Although their research is still in the early stages, they believe trained dogs could someday be used to help diagnose malaria more quickly and prevent it from spreading across national borders.

“This could provide a non-invasive way of screening for the disease at ports of entry in a similar way to how sniffer dogs are routinely used to detect fruit and vegetables or drugs at airports,” lead researcher Steve Lindsay, a professor at Durham University's Department of Biosciences, said in a statement.

Their findings are being presented October 29 at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. For their study, researchers collected 175 sock samples, some of which belonged to 30 children whose blood tested positive for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The dogs, which are kept at the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes, UK, were able to accurately categorize 70 percent of the malaria-infected samples and 90 percent of the non-infected samples.

Following the completion of the study, a third dog—a springer spaniel named Freya—also underwent malaria-detection training. Dogs have been trained to sniff out certain kinds of cancer and sugar changes in diabetes patients, but this is the first time they’ve been trained to detect a parasite infection. Researchers say artificial odor sensors could someday be developed, but for now, trained dogs could be a new resource in the global fight against malaria.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The Reason Dogs Are Terrified of Thunderstorms—And How You Can Help

The face of a dog who clearly knows that a hard rain's a-gonna fall.
The face of a dog who clearly knows that a hard rain's a-gonna fall.
Charles Deluvio, Unsplash

Deafening thunder can be a little scary even for a full-grown human who knows it’s harmless, so your dog’s terror is understandable. But why exactly do thunderstorms send so many of our pawed pals into a tailspin?

Many dogs are distressed by unexpected loud noises—a condition known as noise aversion, or noise phobia in more severe cases—and sudden thunderclaps fall into that category. What separates a wailing siren or fireworks show from a thunderstorm in a dog's mind, however, is that dogs may actually realize a thunderstorm is coming.

As National Geographic explains, not only can dogs easily see when the sky gets dark and feel when the wind picks up, but they can also perceive the shift in barometric pressure that occurs before a storm. The anxiety of knowing loud noise is on its way may upset your dog as much as the noise itself.

Static electricity could also add to this anxiety, especially for dogs with long and/or thick hair. Tufts University veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, who also co-founded the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, told National Geographic that a static shock when brushing up against metal may heighten your dog’s agitation during a storm.

It’s difficult to nail down why each dog despises thunderstorms. As Purina points out, one could simply be thrown off by a break from routine, while another may be most troubled by the lightning. In any case, there are ways to help calm your stressed pet.

If your dog’s favorite spot during a storm is in the bathroom, they could be trying to stay near smooth, static-less surfaces for fear of getting shocked. Suiting them up in an anti-static jacket or petting them down with anti-static dryer sheets may help.

You can also make a safe haven for your pup where they’ll be oblivious to signs of a storm. Purina behavior research scientist Ragen T.S. McGowan suggests draping a blanket over their crate, which can help muffle noise. For dogs that don’t use (or like) crates, a cozy room with drawn blinds and a white noise machine can work instead.

Consulting your veterinarian is a good idea, too; if your dog’s thunderstorm-related stress is really causing issues, an anti-anxiety prescription could be the best option.

[h/t National Geographic]