Trained African rats can sniff out tuberculosis cases missed by clinics

African pouched rats are being trained in Tanzania to make life-saving discoveries by sniffing out cases of tuberculosis missed by health clinics.

The World Health Organization estimates that around 4.1 m TB cases went undetected in the last year which resulted in 1.7m deaths.

Detection rates using conventional light microscopy can be as low as 20%. Also it takes a longer time, a human with a microscope takes 4 days to test 100 samples which the rats do in 15-20 minutes.

As reported by the Guardian, on an average the Apopo rats find an additional 40% of TB cases on top of those discovered by clinics. Having started work 10 years ago, they have screened nearly half a million samples and have detected more than 12,200 missed cases.

But no person will be treated ‘on the statement of a rat’s, says Lena Fiebig, head of the TB program at Apopo.

“The rats at this moment are not approved as a standalone diagnostic tool. But the rats have already contributed tremendously to narrow down the focus, so it’s not a team of 10 lab technicians who need a week to re-check.”

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