We’re currently prepping for a work-related trip to East Africa, which means we now get to spend lots of time being freaked out by ominous Centers for Disease Control warnings. (According to the CDC’s literature, setting foot in half the countries on the planet appears to be a recipe for gory death.) It also means we’ll be dedicating a lot of mental bandwidth to public health in the developing world, particularly that old bogeyman malaria. We’ve taken a keen interest in the disease ever since working on Now the Hell Will Start; our research for that book revealed that the malaria rate along the Ledo Road during its construction was a gobsmacking 995 cases per every 1,000 man.
So we couldn’t help but highlight this potential silver-bullet solution, just recently announced by a team at the University of California at Riverside:
Anandasankar Ray, a Yale-trained neurobiologist and Stephanie Turner, a graduate research assistant, have confirmed that two common odor-causing chemicals will deaden the acute nose of malaria causing mosquitoes.
The discovery will likely result in a new class of mosquito repellants which will not need to be applied to the skin, said Ray, an assistant professor in the entomology department at UCR.
Ray said that he and Turner found that hexanol and a related odor, butanal, were strong inhibitors of carbon dioxide sensitive neurons in Culex mosquitoes, a subspecies that carries West Nile virus and filariasis, a lymphatic disease affecting 120 million worldwide.
In other words, it’s a variation on the citronella candle approach. Sounds promising, but we always have to ask—how does this method compare to the wider distribution of bed nets, both in terms of cost and efficacy? Because the more we read about antimalarial tactics, the more we become convinced that nothing can match bed nets in terms of bang-for-the-buck. So just as all human medications must be tested against placebos, so must all those fancy malaria solutions be tested against bed nets.
We do think, however, that messing with the mosquitoes nostrils seems to make more intuitive sense than pouring billions into transgenic insects.