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Fighting malaria with smelly socks

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Although scientists have yet to develop a vaccine against malaria, new study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine may have found a way to, literally, “sock it” to mosquitoes that carry the deadly disease, by baiting traps with dirty footwear.

Health experts have long been aware that the insects are attracted by human odors. However, they did not realize until recently that those carrying the malaria parasite were “three times more likely to be drawn to the smell of stinky feet than mosquitoes who did not carry the disease,” according to a research project lead by Dr. James Logan, who exclaimed, “smelly feet have a use after all.”

Logan also went on to suggest that by using traps baited with human foot odor to target malaria mosquitoes, scientists could ultimately be able to reduce the amount that eventually grow resistant to the pesticides used to kill them.

“It would also seem very unlikely that the mosquitoes, themselves, would be able to avoid the traps because of their sense of smell,” he added.

Up until now health officials have been using bed nets and drugs, as well as insecticides, and eliminating pools of stagnant water to prevent infection in tropical and sub tropical regions throughout the globe, with limited success. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that more than 660,000 people (primarily children in Africa) die from malaria every year, despite preventative efforts including the above-mentioned methods and a variety of anti-malarial drugs used to prevent travelers from contracting it in infected areas. Those who do come down with the disease are then treated either intravenously or with intramuscular injections (since the mid 2000’s) with quinine.

Initial symptoms of malaria usually appear within 8-25 of being bitten by infected mosquitoes and can include flu-like fever, headaches, shivering, joint pain and vomiting, as well as jaundice, blood in the urine, rectal damage and convulsions. Symptoms of severe malaria, which affect the brain, however, generally arise 9-30 days following infection and can, include palsy, abnormal posturing, nystagmus (involuntary eye movements), seizures and even coma.

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