RATS SAVE PEOPLE
African giant pouched rats, writes The Guardian, are able to detect tuberculosis in people. Within a few minutes, an experienced rat delivered a correct diagnosis to 13 patients at a Belgian hospital in Tanzania. This news may cause some to laugh, but it is nevertheless saving human lives. Moreover, sometimes a patient’s sputum samples come out “clean”.
What does a diagnosis look like? The rat is placed in a cage with several petri dishes of human sputum, which is processed so that neither other people nor the “diagnosticians” are affected by it. The rat sniffs the samples one at a time, quickly going from dish to dish, and when it finds the scent it stays there and starts to scratch the floor of the cage.
If their answer is correct, the rat receives a reward. So how effective are the rats? Extremely. They find an additional 40% of tuberculosis cases that are overlooked by clinics.
During the ten years of this program’s existence, rats have sniffed half a million samples and found 12, 200 such cases. But how long does it take them to make a diagnosis? Rats can check 100 samples in 10-20 minutes. This would take a person with a microscope four days, yet his salary would be higher…
I’ve already written about dogs that can sniff people for cancer, and they can also react to tuberculosis, as they avoid rooms that “stink”. In fairness, though, it should be noted that doctors can also sense this smell, but not all, as many prefer viewing test results on the computer rather than actually viewing the patient.
“Rats are simply top-quality, and they’re easy to work with,” says a woman who trains these diagnosticians.
We understand that a medical diagnosis is not based on the rats’ opinions. This method is not at all standard, and all the tests are re-checked in the laboratory, although rats noticeably narrow the search.
If the word tuberculosis seems a bit archaic to you, then you are mistaken. It remains the #1 most deadly infection, and last year over 4 million cases went undetected.
Interestingly, these same African rats are great masters in the detection of landmines. Over the past 20 years, they methodically found more than one hundred thousand mines in Mozambique, Angola, and Cambodia. There are also plans to train rats in the detection of earthquake victims, and in the fight against pangolin smuggling. Among the local inhabitants, rats gone from being pests to heroes. That’s the meaning of education.
Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash