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Malaria mosquitoes attracted to human scent, British study shows

Mosquitoes carrying malaria are somehow manipulated by parasites carrying the disease to make a bee line for the smell of humans, researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine say.

Mosquitoes carrying malaria are more attracted to human scent than non-malarial ones are, according to a new study.

They were also more likely to bite, theBBC cited lead researcher Dr. James Logan, of the Department of Disease Control at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as saying.

The study, published in PLOS One, suggested that mosquitoes carrying the disease moved more often and quickly towards the smell of humans.

Compared with noninfected mosquitoes, those carrying the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum visited a fabric covered with a person’s sweat three times as frequently, the researchers found.

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In fact, Plasmodium’s ability to manipulate its hosts could help explain its ability to infect so many people.

CNN quoted Logan as saying:

“What we’ve shown is malaria parasites can manipulate the mosquito’s behavior to make it sense our body odor much more easily, and that means they’re much more likely to find us.”

However, the researchers don’t know how the parasite manipulates mosquitoes’ sense of smell.

Nor is it clear what it is about human odor that is the most attractive to the infected mosquitoes.

Parasitologist Hilary Hurd of Keele University in England, who collaborates with some of the study’s authorstold Science News:

“We’re at the tip of the iceberg, really, of understanding all the strategies the parasite is using in the mosquitoes. That’s remarkable, given that this is a single-celled organism we’re talking about.”

Hundreds of millions of people have malaria, with about 200 million contracting it each year and, Science News wrote, more than 500,000 dying of it annually.