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Malaria May Make Mosquitoes More Attracted to Human Odor

Update Date: May 15, 2013 05:09 PM EDT

A new study suggests that the malarial parasite may alter the mosquito olfactory system by making the insects more attracted to human odor.

Researchers found that malaria-infected mosquitoes were significantly more attracted to human odors than uninfected mosquitoes.

Previous studies have already shown that the malarial parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) can alter mosquito behavior in ways that increase the rate of malaria transmission. For example mosquitoes infected with malaria consume larger, more frequent blood meals than their uninfected counterparts.

Researcher James Logan and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK, studied the response of mosquitoes infected with P. falciparum malaria parasites and uninfected mosquitoes to human odor collected on a fabric matrix.

 The study revealed that mosquitoes infected with the parasites landed and probed significantly more than uninfected mosquitoes in response to the odor, leading researchers to conclude "malaria-infectious females are more attracted to human odors than uninfected mosquitoes".

Investigators noted that studies of mosquito behavior in the context of malaria transmission often use uninfected mosquito subjects.  However, the latest findings suggest that such behavioral studies may not always be representative of the behavior of infected mosquitoes. Logan and his team conclude that understanding the olfactory changes that affect the behavior of infected mosquitoes may lead to better mosquito traps and malaria prevention.

The study was published May 15 in the journal PLOS ONE.

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