Weetjens : Spit-sniffing Rats Diagnose TB in Tanzania – Giant, spit-sniffing rats could potentially save lives, believe it or not. A recent study shows that dog-sized rats may be able to diagnose tuberculosis in humans. The study was conducted in Tanzania using rats that are trained to smell TB in spit samples.
There are 1,000 samples per week that are collected from local hospitals, and are given to the non-profit organization to help them sniff out TB in some humans. The rats have improved disease detection by as much as 44%, and even found TB in some patients where the disease was missed.
The World Health Organization estimates that 2 billion people around the world are infected with TB, the rats help because the disease can be hard to detect under a microscope. It is even harder to detect in individuals who are HIV positive, which has led to further complications in testing.
The rats, called Weetjens, are native to sub-Saharan Africa. They are able to detect land mines in the region, and are now being used for medical testing. They have an excellent sense of smell, are able to be trained much in the same way that a dog would be.
Rats are not currently the only creatures that are known for making medical diagnoses. Dogs have also been trained to find diseases in humans, through the smelling of urine and hair samples.
“Whatever dogs can detect, rats can detect equally well,” said one scientist, who also noted that they are much cheaper than dogs as well. “They’re calmer than most small animals, very intelligent and social, and they love humans.”