African rats used to increase TB detection rates

A new study has revealed that giant African rats were capable of increasing the positive detection rates of tuberculosis by 44 percent more than microscopy , the standard means of detection.

The study, released in the December issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, used giant African pouched rats and the sputum of over 10,000 TB patients from five Direct Observation Treatment Short-Course centers in Tanzania, according to

Technicians at the DOTS centers first analyzed the sputum through microscopy, then the samples were forwarded to Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling in Tanzania to have the rats perform their own type of examination.

Ten giant African pouched rats were trained to read sputum samples and were rewarded with a banana every time that they were successful in finding one.

The traditional microscopy method found that 13.3 percent of the samples were positive for TB, but the rats found an additional 620 new cases.

“Using sniffer rats to detect TB seems medieval but our study shows it works, providing an inexpensive, accurate, quick diagnostic,” lead investigator Alan Poling of Western Michigan University said, according to NewsWise. “This could have a huge impact in developing countries where TB accounts for one-fourth of all preventable adult deaths and high-tech screening methods aren’t readily available.”

Approximately 3 million people die each year from TB, making it the number one infectious disease killer in the world. Death from TB can be prevented, but early detection and treatment is critical. The Zhiel Neelson method of sputum smear testing is most commonly used, but it is often inaccurate.

“Millions of people die needlessly every year from preventable infectious diseases due to delayed detection and treatment. We must work to find innovative tools that increase our ability to detect, treat and prevent disease.” Peter Hotez, the president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene said, according to NewsWise. “This study provides a realistic, easy-to-implement diagnostic solution for communities that may not have access to other tools. This study leads the way to our goal of reducing the impact of TB on the world, and exploring how this might be used to detect other diseases."