Fowl play: Chickens can save you from malaria

New methods to control the vector-borne disease are of utmost importance in Sub Saharan region and parts of South Asian countries

Fowl play: Chickens can save you from malaria

The smell of chicken fowl can ward off mosquitoes effectively, claims a research that was published in 'Malaria Journal' recently. Teams at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Addis Ababa University that conducted the research found that malaria-causing Anopheles arabiensis species avoid feeding on chicken because of the fowls’ smell.

“We were surprised to find that malarial mosquitoes are repelled by the odours emitted by chickens. This study shows for the first time that malarial mosquitoes actively avoid feeding on certain animal species,” said corresponding author Rickard Ignell.

The team conducted a simple test to come to the conclusion. First, they collected data on humans and domestic animals (host census) in three Ethopian villages that shared similar living quarters. They also collected blood-fed mosquitoes (blood meal analysis) from the same area to find out the source of their victims. The team found out that the mosquitoes fed on humans while indoors and goats and cattle when outdoors, but strangely leaving out the fowls in both cases.

Since mosquitoes use their smell to determine their host, the team used compounds from chicken feather and other live stocks (created using combined gas chromatography and electroantennographic detection analysis followed by combined gas chromatography and mass spectrometry) and used them in traps. The traps were used in 11 houses with a volunteer sleeping under an untreated net. Interestingly, fewer mosquitoes were caught on the traps that had chicken compounds, confirming the effect of odour on the blood suckers.

The finding could prove to be useful in making effective mosquitoes repellants in future.

Despite global intervention, malaria remains a concern in Sub Saharan Africa and parts of South Asian countries. Anopheles arabiensis is an opportunistic feeder on both human and other vertebrate hosts, its ability to feed indoors and outdoors on available hosts, makes this mosquito a vector that requires a more coordinated control strategy.