Mosquitoes infected with the malaria parasite are significantly more attracted to human odors -- in this case smelly socks -- than are uninfected mosquitoes, researchers reported Wednesday.
Scientists collected human odor on nylon socks -- by having someone wear them for 20 hours -- and put them, along with clean socks, into an enclosure with mosquitoes. The bugs infected with P. falciparum showed more landings and more probing of the smelly socks.
None of the mosquitoes -- infected or not -- were especially drawn to the socks with no human odor.
The work by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was published in PLOS One.
More than 200 million people get malaria each year, and 770,000 people die of it.
The parasite would have an easier time if the mosquito “is more responsive to host odors, as this is the dominant cue used to find a blood meal,” the researchers wrote.
Earlier research has shown that the parasite that causes malaria can change the way infected mosquitoes behave in ways that increase the rate of transmission of the disease. The latest experiment is the first to show a change in behavior linked to odors, the scientists wrote.