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.

Australian Island Wants Visitors to Stop Taking Wombat Selfies

iStock.com/LukeWaitPhotography
iStock.com/LukeWaitPhotography

Spending a day observing Australian wildlife from afar isn't enough for some tourists. On Maria Island, just off the east coast of Tasmania, many visitors can't resist snapping pictures with the local wombats—and the problem has gotten so out of hand that island officials are asking people to pledge to leave the cute marsupials out of their selfies.

As CNN Travel reports, the Maria Island Pledge has been posted on signs welcoming visitors to the national park. It implores them to vow to the island to "respect and protect the furred and feathered residents." It even makes specific mention of the wombat selfie trend, with one passage reading:

"Wombats, when you trundle past me I pledge I will not chase you with my selfie stick, or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you, or try and pick you up. I will make sure I don’t leave rubbish or food from my morning tea. I pledge to let you stay wild."

The pledge isn't a binding contract guests have to sign. Rather, park officials hope that seeing these signs when they arrive will be enough to remind visitors that their presence has an impact on the resident wildlife and to be respectful of their surroundings.

The adorable, cube-pooping wombats at Maria Island are wild animals that aren't accustomed to posing for pictures, and should therefore be left alone—though in other parts of Australia, conservationists encourage tourists to take wildlife selfies. Rottnest Island off the country's west coast is home to 10,000 quokkas (another photogenic marsupial), and the quokka selfies taken there help raise awareness of their vulnerable status.

[h/t CNN Travel]

Divers Swim With What Could Be the Biggest Great White Shark Ever Filmed

iStock.com/RamonCarretero
iStock.com/RamonCarretero

New pictures and video taken by divers show what could possibly be the largest great white shark ever caught on camera, CNN Travel reports.

Deep Blue, a 50-plus-year-old great white first documented 20 years ago, was spotted off the coast of Hawaii recently in a rare close encounter. Divers were filming tiger sharks feeding on a sperm whale carcass south of Oahu when Deep Blue swam up and began scratching herself on their boat. They accompanied the shark in the water for the rest of the day, even getting close enough to touch her at times.


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"She swam away escorted by two rough-toothed dolphins who danced around her over to one of my [...] shark research vessels and proceeded to use it as a scratching post, passing up feeding for another need," Ocean Ramsey, one of the divers, wrote in an Instagram post.


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Deep Blue is roughly 20 feet long and weighs an estimated 2 tons—likely making her one of the largest great whites alive. (The record for biggest great white shark ever is often disputed, with some outlets listing an alleged 37-foot shark recorded in the 1930s as the record-holder.)

Deep Blue looks especially wide in these photos, leading some to suspect she's pregnant. Swimming so close to great whites is always dangerous, especially when they're feeding, but older, pregnant females tend to be more docile.

Though great white sharks are the largest predatory sharks in the ocean, sharks of Deep Blue's size are seldom seen, and they're filmed alive even less often, making this a remarkable occurrence.

[h/t CNN Travel]

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