I’m back at work this week, and that means catching up on international infectious disease news. I know, I know… it’s a dream job.
This story caught my eye:
African giant pouched rats are using their sharp olfactory senses to help to fight TB in Tanzania. Trained by the Belgium-based nonprofit Apopo International, teams of 25 rats are serving a pilot project to detect TB in saliva samples at four clinics in the slums of Dar es Salaam and nearby Morogoro.
Already, the rats have identified 300 cases of early TB missed by lab technicians armed with microscopes. Without the rodents’ help, those patients could have gotten ill, spread the disease and died.
“It’s fair, I think, to call these animals ‘hero rats,'” said Bart Weetjens, who conceived of the program. “They are organized, sensitive, sociable and smart,” he noted.
Who knew that rats could be so useful? And not just any rats—giant ones. Here’s a picture of an African Giant Pouched Rat with its handler:
Yeah, that sucker is big. In this case, the rat is not sussing out TB but hunting down buried land mines. I’m telling you, these rats will be companion animals for the disabled soon.
My favorite part of the article:
The rats are trained with a clicking device. When the rat senses a sample has TB, it makes a scratching motion and the handler responds by snapping the clicker, which means a treat is on its way.
Asked whether the rats would short-circuit the process and scratch every few minutes to get their fill of treats, Weetjens replied, “That would be human behavior. Rats are more honest.”
I think we’ve been dissed, fellow humans. Rats now outrank us in both usefulness and honesty.
But can they mix a decent drink, that’s what I want to know.