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Chris Hartlove

Malaria Research News

Anopheles’ shifting dinner times

Christen FornadelFor some female Anopheles mosquitoes, not just any blood meal will do. The nourishing red stuff has to come from humans.

This odd pickiness could pose an obstacle for malaria eradication efforts. Christen Fornadel, PhD, who works in the lab of associate professor Douglas Norris, PhD, MS, at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, recently ventured to Macha, Zambia, for a closer look at the problem.

The main carrier of malaria in Macha, the mosquito Anopheles arabiensis, has been found to have different feeding behaviors in different African regions—suggesting that it has the capacity to shift its diet from humans to other animals if nudged. From 2004 to 2007, the government of Zambia issued insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) to most households in the area, and as Fornadel says, “if people were protected, since this mosquito is known to feed mostly on cows in other places, we thought maybe we’d see a shift and it would start to prefer feeding on cattle.”

Before the bed nets were introduced, studies by Fornadel, Norris and others had found that local A. arabiensis obtained about 90 percent of their blood meals from humans. During the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 rainy seasons in Macha, Fornadel spent several weeks pulling all-nighters with a local team, setting up and monitoring mosquito catches, to see whether the malaria-carrying pests had acquired more of a taste for local cattle.

The bad news:  “The mosquitoes we caught were still getting over 90 percent of their blood meals from people, in part by biting before bedtime,” says Fornadel.

The findings represent just a snapshot of mosquito feeding behavior, a complex phenomenon that needs more study. But the results agree with other research in Africa that has found a continued preference for human blood by Anopheles in some areas despite ITN introduction. Fornadel concludes, “On their own, the nets clearly aren’t going to eliminate the disease in the Macha region.”

Comments

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  • Richard Semakula

    Kampala 03/07/2011 02:40:18 AM

    I like you attempts to follow this human pest. I have a simple thought. Could you explore the possibility of adding a concentrated dose of a mosquito repellent into household bathing soap. this is one item used in all house holds and could be a great carrier for mosquito repelling agents.

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