Mosquitoes – A story of bad news, good news, beer and Malaria3 min read
“The bad news is that if you drink beer, mosquitoes are more attracted to you and may bite you and give you malaria. The good news is that scientists have developed a mosquito that could, in theory, vaccinate you against malaria with each bite.”
The first study, Beer Consumption Increases Human Attractiveness to Malaria Mosquitoes, was conducted in Burkina Faso by a team of researchers led by Thierry Lefèvre from Emory University and published by PLoS ONE, an interactive open-access journal. It concluded that “beer consumption consistently increased volunteers’ attractiveness to mosquitoes.” The researchers believe that the alcohol in the local beer causes the increased attractiveness; however, further studies are necessary to eliminate other possibilities. I saw that the local beer is fairly low in alcohol content and wondered what the curve would look like as the strength varied. Is it a linear relationship, or would it yield an upside-down “U” shape? If the latter, one could stick to more toxic drinks (although this flies in the face of the researchers who also noted that alcohol consumption has other negative health effects and can lower one’s ability to defend against parasites and other threats to the immune system). I was lucky enough to learn about the African drink, dawa, from my wife (it was a huge hit on our wedding night). Dawa means “medicine” or “magical potion” in Swahili and is a much stronger drink than the local beer in Burkina Faso, so perhaps they already know about the shape of the curve.
The second study, Flying vaccinator; a transgenic mosquito delivers a Leishmania vaccine via blood feeding, was published in the April 2010 issue of Insect Molecular Biology and conducted by Associate Professor Shigeto Yoshida and his research team from Jichi Medical University. Unfortunately, there are ethical issues with using wild mosquitoes (are there domesticated ones?) to transmit a vaccine. How would the pharmas get paid for it, for example? Oh, yeah, that is not an ethical issue so much as an economical one. In all seriousness, it does sound like this idea may be years away if it ever gets off the ground (no pun intended). The mere fact that they did successfully use the mosquito’s saliva to deliver the payload, however, does hold promise for other therapies in the future.
Malaria is a very serious problem worldwide, affecting hundreds of millions of people each year and killing millions, mostly sub-Saharan children. If you took the time to read this, please think about helping to stop this disease and perhaps contributing to a worthy organization. It is money well spent. Also, if you are traveling to areas where malaria is a risk, learn about which preventive medicine is right for you and make sure that you take it.