On Malaria and Mosquitoes

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With school out, warm weather and endless outdoor adventures, summer is heaven for any child. My sisters and I would frolic outside from morning to night, building forts, playing tag and riding our bikes. Growing up in rural New England meant forests to explore, dirt roads to traverse and ravenous mosquitoes to fend off.

Surrounded by woodlands and wetlands, our house was a pit stop for the hungry critters, and I was the main course. We all got bitten frequently, but for some reason I always ended up with more welts than my sisters. “That’s because you’re so sweet,” my parents used to joke.

I now think perhaps I was smellier, not sweeter, than my sisters. A new study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE found that mosquitoes were more attracted to a sweaty sock than a clean one. This is a seemingly obvious observation, I realize. But, what was even more interesting is the finding that mosquitoes infected with the malaria parasite are even more apt to take a nibble on a human.

“It's almost like mind control. The parasite changes the behavior of the insects for its own benefit,” NPR reported. It seems the malaria parasites manipulate the mosquitoes into seeking a human meal so as to ensure the spread of the disease. So what to do?

Well, according to another recent study, published in Science, researchers have determined a way to engineer malaria-resistant Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes, which are the major carrier of human malaria in the Middle East and South Asia. The secret weapon is a bacterium called Wolbachia, which is widely prevalent in the invertebrate world.

According to Science, the bacterium works like this:

“If a healthy female mates with a male carrying Wolbachia, some or all of her fertilized eggs will die. But a female carrying Wolbachia can mate with either infected or uninfected males and produce viable eggs—all of which have Wolbachia in them. As a result, the infected females outcompete parasite-free ones, and the overall proportion of Wolbachia carriers increases in a population.”

Basically, Wolbachia is very good at spreading throughout a population.

Even better, “Wolbachia can inhibit the development of the malaria parasite” in mosquitoes, making them resistant to the virus, the study said. More Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes, less malaria - at least, that's the hope. Scientists are still not completely sure how Wolbachia inhibits malaria, but the discovery proves promising in fighting a disease that infects nearly 2.2 million people annually worldwide, killing more than half a million.

As for me? I’ll be hitting the great outdoors as always, but will be sure to cover up with a generous dose of mosquito repellent when I do.

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Quite a interesting report on

Quite a interesting report on mosquitoes. Finding a solution to get rid of mosquitoes scientifically will take time and best way we can protect ourself is by covering exposed parts of the body with clothes and using other alternatives live mosquito repellent and mosquito nets.

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