Laboratories in Tanzania and Kenya train rats to detect tuberculosis
In laboratories in Tanzania and Kenya, rats have been trained to sniff out tuberculosis. Already known for finding land mines, the rodents could now transform the way the disease is detected.
The African giant pouched rats work with scientists at the APOPO Project, because they can detect the smell of the deadly disease.
A study conducted by APOPO in 2016 compared the accuracy of the rats to that of standard methods used in laboratories such as smear microscopy, bacteria culture tests and Genexpert - a rapid test for tuberculosis.
Joseph Soka, programme manager for TB at APOPO, said: "The sensitivity of these rats is as high as compared to microscopes and as compared to other tests, their sensitivity is independent of HIV status.
"That is, they can easily identify tuberculosis in people living with HIV, keeping in mind that these people living with HIV, it is very difficult to be diagnosed by the standard test, including Genexpert in microscopes."
APOPO is already known for training rats to find landmines but training them to detect TB was new territory when they adopted the programme back in 2008.
Now the animals work in 21 medical centres in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam as they are thought to be faster at detecting the illness than standard methods.
Many developing countries heavily rely on old TB detection techniques that entail the use of microscopes to examine the sputum of potentially infected patients. Dhaval Shah, veterinary pathologist at Pathologists Lancet Kenya, said rats can speed up the process.