The parasite that causes malaria can change the way you smell, making you more attractive to mosquitoes, according to a new study. The work may help explain why the disease is able to spread so effectively.
The new study adds important details about how human odor is influenced by malaria, says Audrey Odom John, a parasitologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri who was not involved in the study. “This is very cool, and it’s been needed for some time.”
If infected people smell better to mosquitoes, that could increase the likelihood that the insect sucks up the parasite along with its blood meal then spreads the infection by biting someone else, says study co-leader James Logan, a medical entomologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “The malaria parasite is sort of manipulating the system both in the mosquito host and the human host,” he says. “It’s very clever.”