Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have found that mosquitoes with the malaria parasite are three times as likely to bite humans when compared to their healthy counterparts. In a recently published article on Plos One, the study suggests that the parasite alters its host’s behavior, causing the insect to feed more frequently and at larger quantities. The parasite also lure mosquitoes toward human body odor.

Malaria is a dangerously common disease, and can often be fatal if not treated correctly. The disease causes 200 million cases each year and over 770 thousand deaths worldwide.

“One thing that always surprises me about parasites is how clever they are,” co-author Dr. James Logan told BBC. “They are these ever-evolving organisms that seem to be one step ahead of us the whole time.”

Logan and his team conducted the study by infecting a group of mosquitoes with the deadly parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The infected insects were then placed into a container with worn stockings. The experiment was repeated with a control group of healthy mosquitoes. In the end, more infected mosquitoes were drawn to the stockings than those without the parasite.

“We think it is giving them a heightened sense of smell,“ Logan said.“We are hypothesizing there is an alteration somewhere in their olfactory system that allows them to find us quicker.”

Previously an independent project, the researchers are now receiving funding for a three-year study into how the parasites are manipulating the mosquitoes  The scientists believe that by understanding the parasite and insect’s olfactory preferences, more efficient traps can be devised for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Image from JJ Harrison on the flickr Creative Commons

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