Rats recruited to hunt for TB in Mozambique

October 12, 2012

A swarm of trained rats is on its way to Mozambique to help the country's over-stretched health system detect tuberculosis in patients, officials said Friday.

The authorities have enlisted the much-maligned rodents to help sniff out the disease, after Mozambique's first lady learned of their success in neighbouring Tanzania.

"We had a request from the first Lady and then the Minister of Health who wanted to replicate our results," Mozambique's programme manager for Belgian NGO Apopo, Tess Tewelde, told AFP.

The organisation is in the process of building a laboratory in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, where the rats will be used to sniff their way through sputum samples from patients suspected of having the disease.

These are no ordinary household rats, but "giant pouched rats" native to sub-Saharan Africa, prized for their extraordinary .

For the past six years, Apopo has been using what they call their "hero rats" to sniff out in Mozambique left over from its civil and independence wars with great success. "What takes a de-miner two days to clear, rats do in 30 minutes," Tewelde said.

Now the rodents will turn their attention to the country's new threat - tuberculosis, often associated with in a sub-continent plagued by the .

The disease affects six people out of every 1,000 people according to 2008 UN figures. Half of all go undetected according to the country's statistics.

Rats can help to bring these numbers down because of their speed and accuracy, Apopo said.

They can accomplish in under an hour, what a laboratory technician can accomplish in a week, said Tewelde.

"It is much cheaper and faster. Our rats can screen 400 samples in 30 minutes.

"In TB, it is important not to miss a patient. Imagine how many they can contaminate in their family and community," said Tewelde.

By the end of the year, Apopo hopes to be using around 50 giant rats for both mine-detection and TB detection—though not using the same individual animals.

"You cannot use them interchangeably. They need special training," Tewelde said, adding the young rats would probably need some time to adapt to their new home in Maputo. "They get panicked at the beginning," he told AFP.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Onions could hold key to fighting antibiotic resistance

January 22, 2018
A type of onion could help the fight against antibiotic resistance in cases of tuberculosis, a UCL and Birkbeck-led study suggests.

New long-acting approach for malaria therapy developed

January 22, 2018
A new study, published in Nature Communications, conducted by the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine highlights a new 'long acting' medicine for the prevention of malaria.

Virus shown to be likely cause of mystery polio-like illness

January 22, 2018
A major review by UNSW researchers has identified strong evidence that a virus called Enterovirus D68 is the cause of a mystery polio-like illness that has paralysed children in the US, Canada and Europe.

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.