A breathalyzer test for malaria is in the works from scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
According to the research, presented this week at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and reported on by Wired, people with malaria give off a distinctive “breath-print” that could be used as a test for the disease.
The research team found that there are six unique compounds found in the breath of malaria victims — the breath test could analyze these compounds and determine if a suspected victim has the disease, which is caused by a parasite and transmitted by infected mosquitoes.
In the study, 35 children from Malawi, some with malaria and some without, gave breath samples to test the accuracy of the machine. The breath test was able to accurately identify 29 of the children — a success rate of 83%.
Once the researchers can improve this success rate, the machine could be more widely used as a faster, cheaper, non-invasive and reliable method to test for the disease that ravages many countries in Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.
“It’s clear that if we had fast, easy-to-use, reliable diagnostic devices that both health care providers and families trust, we could reduce unnecessary antibiotic use,” said lead researcher Audrey Odom John, at a TEDxKC talk in 2015, when she was in the early stages of her work on the device.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 212 million cases of malaria were reported worldwide in 2015 and about 429,000 people died, many of them children.
Symptoms of malaria include chills, fever, sweats, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms, with some physical evidence like jaundice, an enlarged spleen and increased respiratory rate. Death is possible, but malaria is curable if caught in time.
Malaria in the United States, which reaches about 1,700 cases per year, if often caused by travelers bringing the disease back from malaria-stricken countries.