(Mirror Daily, United States) – Malaria affects around 5 million people and kills 70,000 every year in Ethiopia. No one thought until recently that chickens might be the solution to this problem.
A team of researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Science conducted a study about one of the most dangerous disease-carrying mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa, known as Anopheles arabiensis.
Scientists hoped to find a way to prevent these mosquitoes from causing such a staggering number of malaria cases. Humans usually share living space in Western Ethiopia, and it looks like these animals might play a major role in repelling the malaria-carrying insects.
The team wanted to understand which animals attract mosquitoes and which prevent them from getting too close. According to Rickard Ignell, lead author of the study, mosquitoes usually bite sheep, goats, and other animals, but the most interesting finding was that these insects never got close to chickens.
In addition to this, researchers observed that mosquitoes avoided chickens. The team conducted an experiment by trapping 1,172 Anopheles arabiensis which had had a blood meal in a chicken enclosure. As it turned out, only one mosquito bit a chicken.
In the second part of the experiment, 6.706 adults volunteered to sleep with a mosquito trap in their surroundings and with a chicken in a cage near the bed. The next day researchers counted the number of mosquitoes in the traps and established that there were fewer than usual thanks to the fact the chicken was around all night.
According to Conor McMeniman, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, these findings will be a valuable asset in developing an efficient strategy to prevent mosquitoes from picking up the human scent.
In the last part of the experiment, Ignell and his colleagues gathered feathers, wool, and fur from household animals to extract the chemical substances which generated the odors of chickens, goats, sheep, and cattle.
After isolating four substances from chickens, the team produced pure chicken odor. Thousands of people from many Ethiopian villages volunteered to see whether the odors would be efficient or not. The team placed several devices in bedrooms which generated the odors of chickens, goats, sheep, and cattle.
Based on the results, mosquitoes’ number dropped off by around 90 to 95 percent thanks to the chicken odor, and with 80 percent when caged chickens were placed near the bed.
These chemical compounds were found in Mexican marigolds and citrus peels as well, so burning the peels or growing marigolds might repel malaria-carrying mosquitoes as well. Still, these methods do not apply to all species of mosquitoes, especially the ones who feed on birds.