Malaria is a disease that affects thousands of people every year, and that’s why early detection is so important. One research has led to the development of the method that shows much promise for early diagnosis.
The idea is that people who have contracted malaria have been known to have a specific “breath-print” that could be used to test for this disease. A basic prototype has already been tried out in Africa. It has been shown to be a good tool for diagnosing malaria in children, but will need additional refinement in order to become a reliable diagnostic tool. One interesting aspect of the breathalyzer is that it can detect an odor that attracts insects that spread malaria.
For example, pine trees emit an odor that attracts mosquitoes and other insects that will help pollinate the trees. Researchers believe that people who have malaria also have this odor in their breath, which attracts mosquitoes to them and which in turn leads to the greater spread of the disease.
The breathalyzer currently can detect six specific odors or compounds in order to detect cases of malaria. To test out their device, the researchers used the device on 35 children in Malawi. Some of the children had malaria, but not all. The test indicated that 29 children had malaria, but missed a few and ended up being 83% accurate. Unfortunately, while this number is impressive for a new medical device, an 83% success rate is still considered to be too low for the test to be used on a routine basis. However, researchers hope that they can work and improve the reliability of the device.
Currently, the test for malaria is a simple blood test, but this method of diagnosing the disease has limitations. There are certain difficulties to perform it in rural areas. In fact, the conventional test in not available in many rural areas in Africa. As such, it’s obvious that a device that is simple and not invasive would be ideal in such regions.
Additionally, since malaria doesn’t always display the common symptoms at its early stages, the disease may be going undetected for weeks. This new diagnostic tool, however, can detect the special odor in the breath of infected individuals just a few days after infection.
While this device is not yet available, the early study shows a lot of potential. The developers plan to continue working on the breathalyzer and believe it may be used as a routine medical device in the next few years.