Bees help in the battle against tuberculosis
Thu, 27 Oct 2011 6:38a.m.
By Kloe Palmer
It's no surprise bees have extraordinary noses, since they can detect pollen from a mile away.
Believe it or not, in some airports they are even being used to sniff out explosives and drugs, and as some Christchurch scientists are discovering soon honey bees might be able to add diagnosing tuberculosis to their CVs.
Hand picked honey bees have no idea they could revolutionise the way Tuberculosis is diagnosed. Believe it or not, humans with the lethal infectious disease have sweet floral smelling breath. People can't smell it, but bees can.
“When we tested them with the tuberculosis odours we found the bees can still smell it down to parts per billion,” says Max Suckling.
Christchurch zoologists are training bees to associate the smell of the disease with a sweet treat and to stick out their tongues when it's present.
Worldwide new TB infections occur at a rate of one per second. Right now it's diagnosed medically by expensive tests and with the disease being most common in poverty stricken areas, using bees instead could make a real difference.
“I think the key is resource poor settings is getting something that cost cents rather than tens of dollars even, in some places the whole budget for health per person might just be a few dollars a year,” says infectious diseases specialist Dr Steve Chambers.
Dr Chambers believes the bees could feature inside a cheap, rapid and non-invasive home screening test which could indicate whether a person needs medical attention. “The key thing is can you identify people who have it and are infecting other people, you identify them early, cheaply, easily and quickly and move them onto treatment programmes that could make a dent in how it's transmitted around the world,” he says.
It's too early to say whether GPs could be keeping sniffer bees in the surgery, but one day they could be the key to detecting an illness that kills almost two million people each year.
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28/11/2011 8:58:19 a.m.
Tuberculosis is a disease of deficiency. It can be both prevented and 100% cured with vitamin D, so there is no need to put more toxic gunk into a child's delicate immune system with yet more vaccinations.
24/11/2011 5:09:47 a.m.
Susan Kuchinskas wrote:
This is fascinating, but I don't see the application for resource-poor countries. First, you would have to train bees individually -- and they only live for 28 days. Second, in order to keep them alive for that long a time, you would have to house and feed them. You would either have to keep training bees in situ or else keep getting them shipped.
I think Amanda is right, it makes more sense to work on cheaper tests and immunizations.
It's a cool project, though.
27/10/2011 8:24:16 p.m.
Evan Lukes wrote:
So, let's do this with dogs. Every time there's an earthquake give them a treat. Animals are meant to be able to sense a pending earthquake; so a dog should show a form of anticipation for a treat before an earthquake if trained in the same way.
27/10/2011 6:25:37 p.m.
Bees sniffing out tuberculosis? Why don't we just start immunising our kids against this disease? The only reason New Zealand has the highest rate of tuberculosis in the developed world is because we let refugees in to this country who have the disease and then New Zealanders are at risk of picking up the disease because we no longer immunise against it. When I spoke to my doctor about immunisation he recommends that I should have my children immunised as at the time I was working in a pharmacy where we had a contract with the TB society and were regularly in contact with TB patients.
I would have thought that training bees to sniff out TB would be harmful to their wellbeing as bees are at high risk at the moment of dying out. I would be interested to see how Asure Quality react to the idea of sniffer bees. I'm a beekeeper and find the idea quite fascinating. I definitely think that it would be a bad idea in terms of bee health and numbers but who knows I could be quite wrong. It will be interesting to see where this goes.
Thank you for your time
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