Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Giant rats that can sniff out tuberculosis to be introduced in African prisons

A rat being trained to detect tuberculosis Briana Marie

'Training an animal with a strong and reliable sense of smell to help detect disease in a vast country like Tanzania could potentially offer a valuable solution'

Giant trained rats will be used to detect tuberculosis (TB) among inmates in crowded prisons in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Prisons are “considered incubators of tuberculosis due to their high populations and confined conditions”, according to Apopo, a Belgian non-governmental organisation which has been training African Giant Pouched Rats to carry out the mass screenings.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the rats will be trained to distinguish the difference between positive and negative sputum samples through their strong sense of smell.

It is hoped the new method will improve the accuracy, speed and cost-efficiency of testing for TB, leading to far fewer cases going undiagnosed.

A trained rat can screen 100 samples in 20 minutes while a laboratory technician may take four days to detect TB. So far, Apopo’s programmes have screened more than 340,000 TB samples and prevented more than 36,000 further infections.

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