Dirty socks could help fight malaria

2011-07-13 11:32
Montreal - The odour of dirty socks can be used to lure mosquitoes into a deadly trap before they can spread malaria, a US and Canadian-funded researcher based in Africa said.

Dr Fredros Okumu, of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, discovered through an experiment that mosquitoes were more attracted to the odour of filthy feet than to live humans sleeping in the same area.

"We had an experimental house with a human being sleeping inside and a second experimental house with a synthetic mixture," he said by telephone.

"We realised that we were getting four times more mosquitoes going into the house with [the] synthetic mixture," which, when doused with insecticide, killed the bugs.

"When mosquitoes are crossing the compound, they sense something that they think it is a human being. They attempt to bite that person or that device and... instead of getting blood they get killed."

'Bold idea'

His findings have earned him a $775 000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian NGO Grand Challenges to install the devices in a number of Tanzanian villages to measure their effect on public health.

The devices are to be placed outside homes in order to complement life-saving nets and repellents.

"We were attracted to that idea because it is a bold idea, it's creative, it's innovative," said Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada.

"Who would have thought that a life-saving technology could be lurking in your laundry basket?"

Malaria claimed 781 000 lives in 2009, according to the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), which is heading efforts to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets and to spray reproduction sites.

About 90% of malaria deaths each year occur in Africa and 92% of those are children aged under 5.

Other mosquito-borne diseases include dengue, which sickens around 50 million people each year, yellow fever, filariasis and West Nile virus.

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