Malaria Breath Tests

In recent news it has been made apparent that we can now test for the presence of malaria using breath tests. This will make diagnosis more streamlined and more accessible for those in rural and impoverished areas who may be unable to access adequate healthcare.

Malaria is a life threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasites transmitted to humans through the Anopheles mosquito. There have been more than 400,000 deaths associated with malaria in the past year. In those who are not immune, symptoms usually appear around 5-10 days after the initial bite. The usual symptoms that follow are fevers, chills and headaches, however due to the nature of these symptoms it can be incredibly difficult to accurately diagnose.

The prototype invented was used to detect 6 different odours to detect malaria. This non-invasive and relatively cheap method compared to analysing blood samples is currently being tested and has recently achieved a success rate of 83% when detecting malaria in children. Despite this seemingly positive figure, the prototype has not yet been mass-produced as additional testing is needed due to the small nature of the group under study. This method also does not require any technical expertise; staff do not need to be trained to use it. Therefore, it can be used in rural areas by villagers to test one another for the presence of the malarial parasite. The rapid testing devices operate by detecting the presence of the protein HRP2 in the breath of its users. Unfortunately, some malarial strains e.g. Plasmodium falciparum have mutated and are now beginning to stop producing this particular protein. As well as the original six odours the scientists were testing for they found high concentrations of terpenes. Terpenes are molecules that are usually associated with the odour from pine trees and conifers and are natural attractants for mosquitos.

“Prof James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “The rapid detection of asymptomatic malaria is a challenge for malaria control and will be essential as we move towards achieving the goal of malaria elimination. A new diagnostic tool, based on the detection of volatiles associated with malaria infection is exciting.””







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