MalariaNatalie Keir examines some innovative methods that researchers are developing to beat malaria, once and for all.

Malaria is a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people per year and is undoubtedly one of the most notorious currently endured by mankind.  When investigating possible preventative measures that could be taken to restrict the spread of malaria, it seems so simple; restrict the spread of mosquitoes and therefore stop the spread of malaria. Unfortunately mosquitoes are sneaky little creatures that are harder to thwart than one might think. Considering a typical mosquito only flies 200 yards in its lifetime, they sure can spread like wildfire.  So how does this happen? The miserable irony is, it is us humans who are spreading them. Mosquitos lay their eggs in clear water, and this water is then strewn across the world by humans, through shipping and other forms of transportation. Despite an array of seemingly infallible obstacles, a number of researcher groups have developed some innovate solutions that could lead to a decline in the spread of malaria.

Potential solution 1: Cheesy feet
The majority of mosquitoes are attracted to the feet and ankles, and this is because of that lovely cheesy aroma that feet tend to exude. Researchers have found that specific cheeses attract mosquitoes more than others. In fact one type, Limburg, is three times more attractive to mosquitoes than humans, so if you happen to be carrying a block of Limburg on your travels, it could prove to be an extremely useful mosquito-distractor.

Potential Solution 2: Sterile imposters
An interesting point to note when examining mosquitos is that it is only the females that bite, the males are primarily key for reproduction purposes. A research group in Oxford, England, are looking into the benefits of releasing scores of sterile male mosquitoes into malaria ridden villages in Brazil. Male mosquitoes have an astonishing ability to locate females in the local area and so it is believed that if large numbers of sterile mosquitoes are released in an area of high mosquito concentration, they will locate the females and mate, producing hundreds of eggs that just won’t hatch. Some research has been done on villages of around 3000 residents, and it was found that after four months the number of mosquitoes in the area had reduced by 85%.

Potential Solution 3: Releasing the hounds
Another approach to the eradication of malaria-spreading mosquitoes is to locate them while they are still in eggs. Adult mosquitoes lay their eggs in water and therefore certain areas of clear water are almost saturated with dormant mosquitoes. When in their eggs they are also incredibly easy to access; they can’t simply fly away. The same research group that recently found that cheese can attract mosquitoes also found that mosquito eggs, or larvae, have a distinct smell. By collecting this smell and training sniffer dogs to locate this smell, hundreds of mosquitoes could be eradicated at once. The idea of sniffer dogs could potentially be taken even further. It is known that people carrying the malaria parasite exude a slightly different scent to those who don’t carry the parasite. If dogs could be trained to identify those who do have the parasite, they could be given the antibiotics needed to combat malaria before it has time to spread. Take that malaria.

Potential Solution 4: The pill
Researchers have developed a pill that can be taken with water and produces some very surprising results.  This pill does not stop mosquitoes biting, but it causes any mosquito who dares to bite the recipient to die pretty quickly. If everyone in a large area took the pill for three weeks, there is a high chance that malaria could be eradicated completely.

 

Natalie Keir

 

Image by Gamma Man