Malaria can be detected through body odour now

New research promises development of non-invasive diagnostic procedures for effective malaria screening

By Inakshi Walia
Published: Tuesday 01 July 2014

The malaria parasite is transmitted through the bite of Anopheles mosquito (image source: wikipedia)The mosquito-borne disease, Malaria, is usually confirmed through blood tests. But now researchers have made a discovery that presents an opportunity to develop non-invasive ways to detect the disease, which poses high risk to millions of lives across the globe.

The study published in journal PNAS on June 30 says the malaria parasite, a protozoan belonging to genus Plasmodium, alters the patients' body odour and make him or her more attractive to mosquitoes that transmit the pathogen from patient to patient. Plasmodium completes its life cycle in a mosquito and it applies a trick to achieve this.

The study, which was conducted on mice, revealed that mosquitoes were most attracted to those mice which had high level of gametocytes—reproductive cells of the plasmodium parasite—in their blood.

The researchers also found that the pathogens did not trigger the production of any new chemical but merely changed the levels of compound already existing in the odour of uninfected individuals.

"Since mosquitoes probably don't benefit from feeding on infected people, it may make sense for the pathogen to exaggerate existing odour cues that the insects are already using for host location," says study leader Mark Mescher, department of environmental systems science, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland.

The infection leaves its mark on body odour for life. Even when infected mice no longer had symptoms, their body odour showed that they were carriers of the pathogen.

Focus Africa

The researchers are now exploring these effects on human subjects in Africa. The research may also lead to development of non-invasive diagnostic procedures that would screen human populations effectively for malaria infections.

According to WHO’s World Malaria Report of 2013, approximately 3.4 billion people are at risk of contracting malaria, of whom 1.2 billion are at high risk.


Manual: From malaria control to malaria elimination: a manual for elimination scenario planning

Report: World malaria report 2013

Feature: Hitting hotspots: Spatial targeting of malaria for control and elimination

Report: Defeating malaria in Asia, the Pacific, Americas, Middle East and Europe

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