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Giant rats detect tuberculosis

Animals can be trained to sniff out TB in sputum samples, adding to accuracy of microscope test

10:31am, December 23, 2010

Low-income countries struggling to keep tuberculosis under control might get a boost from an unlikely source — giant African rats.

The big rodents spotted hundreds of TB-positive sputum samples that a standard microscope test missed on first pass, researchers report in the December American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The TB bacterium currently infects one in three people worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates, with the highest rates in Africa.

Giant African rats, also called Gambian pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus), are native to much of Africa and have been used before to sniff out land mines. Training captive-bred rats to detect TB takes about five

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