July 13, 2011

Can Smelly Socks Help Fight Malaria?

Scientists in Tanzania are using the odor of human feet to lure in malaria-spreading mosquitoes.

The traps attract up to four times as many mosquitoes as actual humans.

Scientists hope this trap could drastically reduce the transmission rate of malaria, which is one of the biggest killers in the developing world.

Scientists first came up with the idea after seeing how mosquitoes were drawn to smelly socks.

The team persuaded volunteers to donate socks they had worn for at least ten hours.  They placed them inside canvas and wooden boxes hung with insecticide-laced drapes outside people's homes in Tanzania.

Dr Fredros Okumu is leading the two-year project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania.

Okumu said mosquitoes work through smell rather than sight so it could not tell the difference between the trap and real humans before it was too late.

"In their attempts to get blood from these devices, between 74 to 95 per cent of all of those who landed in them got killed," he said in a statement. "We're hoping this will be a worthwhile and significant addition to the malaria control arsenal."

The team wants to establish whether socks or a synthetic version of their smell work best.  They also plan to simplify the devices enough to be made and sold by the villagers themselves.

About 250 million new cases of malaria take place each year, and almost 800,000 people die, according to the World Health Organization.


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