Foot odor to the res­cue? Malaria may have a new foe

Modern Healthcare - - Outliers -

What do mos­qui­toes like more than clean, hu­man skin? Stinky socks. Sci­en­tists think the musky odor of hu­man feet can be used to at­tract and kill mos­qui­toes that carry deadly malaria. Last week, the Gates Foun­da­tion an­nounced that it will help fund one such pun­gent pro­ject in Tan­za­nia.

If they can be cheaply mass-pro­duced, the traps could pro­vide the first prac­ti­cal way of con­trol­ling malaria in­fec­tions out­doors. The in­creased use of bed nets and in­door spray­ing has al­ready helped bring down trans­mis­sions in­side homes.

Dutch sci­en­tist Dr. Bart Knols first dis­cov­ered mos­qui­toes were at­tracted to foot odor by stand­ing in a dark room naked and ex­am­in­ing where he was bit­ten, said Dr. Fre­dros Okumu, the head of the re­search pro­ject at Tan­za­nia’s Ifakara Health In­sti­tute. But over the fol­low­ing 15 years, re­searchers strug­gled to put the knowl­edge to use.

Then Okumu dis­cov­ered that the stinky smell—which he repli­cates us­ing a care­ful blend of eight chem­i­cals—at­tracts mos­qui­toes to a trap where they can be poi­soned. The odor of hu­man feet at­tracted four times as many mos­qui­toes as a hu­man vol­un­teer, and the poi­son can kill up to 95% of mos­qui­toes, he said.

The cur­rent traps are ex­pen­sive pro­to­types, but Okumu hopes to pro­duce affordable traps that can be sold for be­tween $4 and $27 each. He said they hoped to de­velop the de­vices so they would work at the ra­tio of 20 traps for ev­ery 1,000 peo­ple.

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