Breath Test to Detect Malaria

Malaria epidemic is increasing every year, most of the targeted patients are children in sub-Saharan Africa, where new diagnostic methods are needed most. According to the latest World Malaria Report (November 2017), there were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, an increase compared to 211 million cases in 2015. The projected number of 445 000 malaria deaths occurred in 2016. Fifteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa carry 80% of the global malaria burden. Currently, detecting malaria include blood sample and a diagnostic center to test it. However, new research is revealing that it may be possible to diagnose malaria via non-invasive technique. Recent ongoing research led by Dr. Audrey Odom John of Washington University School of Medicine and his team introduces the probability for a malaria breathalyzer with the ability to automatically detect the infection.

According to Dr. Audrey Odom John, many bacteria, fungi, and parasites produce smells just like flowers and fruits, and the flavor and fragrance industry already makes use of high-tech mass spectrometers to identify the compounds that contain the typical characteristics of foods, drinks, and cosmetics. Dr. Audrey is looking forward to implement similar observations for the latest study to detect malaria.

The findings, published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2018, revealed that there were significant changes to the compounds which were present in the breath of children suffering from malaria compared to children who didn’t have malaria. The team has been able to pinpoint six biomarkers, namely methyl undecane, dimethyl decane, trimethyl hexane, nonanal, isoprene, and tridecane, to diagnose malaria. These six biomarkers led to the classification of malarial infection status with 83% accuracy (94% specificity and 71% sensitivity). The study stated that there could be higher levels of mosquito-attracting compounds in the breath of children suffering from malaria, paving access to increased likelihood of getting bitten by mosquitos. Hence, these parasites might be intentionally influencing mosquito behavior to increase transmission.

Although the study requires furthermore data and information to conclude successfully, it could offer an innovative, cheap, and easy way to help diagnose malaria. A malaria breathalyzer would be significantly helpful, especially in rural areas and places in sub-Saharan Africa. This could pave the way for a simple, affordable, and accurate tool to aid in the survival of infants and children in developing countries where lab tests may be difficult to conduct.

– Victor Mukherjee,
Assistant Manager (Healthcare),
Infoholic Research