LONDON -- For decades, health officials have battled malaria with insecticides, bed nets and drugs. Now, scientists say there might be a potent new tool to fight the deadly mosquito-borne disease: the stench of human feet.
In a laboratory study, researchers found that mosquitoes infected with the tropical disease were more attracted to human odors from a dirty sock than those that didn't carry malaria. Insects carrying malaria parasites were three times more likely to be drawn to the stinky stockings.
The new finding may help create traps that target only malaria-carrying mosquitoes, researchers say.
"Smelly feet have a use after all," said Dr. James Logan, who headed the research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Every time we identify a new part of how the malaria mosquito interacts with us, we're one step closer to controlling it better."
The sock findings were published last month in the journal PLoS One.
Malaria is estimated to kill more than 600,000 people every year, mostly children in Africa.
Experts have long known that mosquitoes are drawn to human odors, but it was unclear if being infected with malaria made them even more attracted to us. Infected mosquitoes are believed to make up about 1 percent of the mosquito population.
Using traps that only target malaria mosquitoes could result in fewer mosquitoes becoming resistant to the insecticides used to kill them. And it would likely be difficult for the insects to evade traps based on their sense of smell, scientists say.