Medicine is not usually like a House episode. There is no lone genius who pulls a diagnosis out of a hat having used just his wits and a rubber band to solve a case. Most medical work is a steady slog through a patient’s symptoms until the cause of a problem is found. That’s a good thing, as it’s the way that most people can be saved. But sometimes, the solution to a medical mystery can be solved in a most unusual way. Here are ten weird ways, both historical and modern, that diseases have been detected.
Dogs Sniff Out Disease
Dogs are man’s best friend, but we’re now learning that they’re also a doctor’s best helper. The sensitivity of dogs’ noses has found them roles in the armed forces, police, and hunting. Able to recognize trace scents at low concentrations, dogs can be trained to alert us nasally blind humans to the presence of a great many things. With bombs or drugs, this ability has long been used, but now hospitals and researchers are employing canine assistants to help with medical problems.Many diseases cause metabolic changes in the body. This changes the levels of certain compounds or introduces new chemicals to the mix. Doctors rely on these changes when they run blood tests, but said tests often take some time to get results. The ideal test would be one with instant answers. Dogs may be able to supply them. Many of the compounds produced by a diseased body are volatile and can be detected by a nose—more specifically a dog’s nose. Dogs have been trained to pick up the scent of various cancers, low blood sugar, and even the approach of seizures.
While dogs can smell out illness, don’t expect Dr. Fido at your next appointment. They may be sensitive, but training a dog to accurately respond is a time-intensive and expensive process. The canines can also can grow bored and stressed if they do not detect a disease in any samples, much like medical students.
The tongue is a versatile organ, and before the discovery of accurate chemical analyses, it was one of a doctor’s most useful tools. It might strike us as a bit disgusting, but tasting a patient’s urine gave their medic an insight into what may have been wrong with them.
In 6 BC, a Hindu doctor named Sushrata wrote a description of “Honey Urine,” a disease marked by unusually sweet urine. He noted that ants would crowd around it and sampled it for himself. Today, we know that the urine of untreated diabetics contains high levels of sugar. In the 17th century, an English doctor documented the same thing, describing a disease known as “the pissing evil,” which caused urine that was “wonderfully sweet as if it were imbued with honey or sugar.”
The sweetness of a diabetic’s urine could also be detected without resorting to tasting it. In one case, it was spotted when sugar crystals were noticed on the black shoes of a patient. They had formed as splashes of urine dried.
Rabbit And Frog Pregnancy Tests
For most of human history, women have generally had to wait many months to discover if they were pregnant. Only with the telling bump of their belly could they be certain. In the early 20th century, that changed with the development of rabbit and frog pregnancy tests.
It was found that when a woman is pregnant, her urine would contain a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Testing directly for this would have been too difficult and costly to be a useful procedure at the time. However, when hCG is injected into a female rabbit, it causes telltale swelling and color changes in the rabbit’s ovaries. So a woman’s urine would be injected into a rabbit to see if she was pregnant. At first, this required the death of the rabbit to allow the ovaries to be examined, though later, nonlethal methods were found.
The rabbit test was soon replaced with the frog test. The African clawed frog would have urine injected into it, too. If the frog produced eggs the next day, then the pregnancy test was positive, as hCG causes the frogs to ovulate. This test had the benefit of being cheaper than the rabbit test and had easier-to-recognize results. It was the standard pregnancy test into the 1950s.