How cheese could “eliminate malaria”

As early as 1996, Dutch scientist Dr Bart Knols was publishing his ground-breaking PhD research in The Lancet and other medical journals that proved African Malaria Mosquitoes were attracted to the smell of Limburger cheese.

His research team found that mosquitoes can be killed by “luring them” with essence of Limburger laced with poison. They began creating mosquito traps for use in Africa and Asia, where mosquito-borne malaria kills millions of people each year.

Then in 2012, he presented their ultimate weapon to the public in a TEDx talk in Maastricht, Holland: ‘Cheese, dogs, and a pill to kill mosquitoes and end malaria’. People would be able to kill mosquitoes in their hundreds simply by taking a pill that contained the essence of Limburger and the mosquito poison (which is harmless to humans). The mosquitoes that bit them died within three hours.

The only downside is that this particular form of biological warfare makes you smell cheesy.

Why mosquitoes love Limburger cheese

Put simply, it smells like feet. (Which is why many humans don’t love Limburger cheese!)

The researchers began in the 1990s by working out that different types of mosquitoes preferred to bite different parts of the human body, because of the taste of the skin. Dutch Malaria Mosquitoes prefer to bite the face, but the African Malaria Mosquitoes prefer ankles and feet.

So to learn about their enemy, the African Malaria Mosquito, they focussed on the smell of people’s feet. Then some bright spark thought, Hey… Cheese smells like feet.

Limburger cheese was created by Belgian Trappist monks in the 1880s and later adapted by Germans and New Yorkers. This cheese smells like stinky feet because its rind actually contains bacteria closely related to the bacteria that live between your toes.

So they experimented with a tiny piece of Limburger cheese to attract the mosquitoes. By the time of Dr Knols’ talk in 2012, it was working so well that in Tanzania, they were using mosquito traps laced with poison and “essence of Limburger”.

The goal: Eliminating malaria world-wide

Half the world’s population runs the risk of contracting malaria from a mosquito daily. In 2014, 700 million people were suffering from mosquito-borne diseases.

Sadly, children are the most likely to be among the millions each year who die from malaria, and in 2012, one child died from malaria every 30 seconds.

Malaria is treatable, if you have the right drugs and the money to afford it, but the best treatment is prevention. Anti-malarial drugs have been prescribed for travellers to areas with malaria mosquitoes for decades now.

For those who live in malaria-affected areas, DEET insect repellents and natural repellents such as clove oil, citronella, lemongrass, eucalyptus, castor oil, peppermint, lavender, and cedar oil have been the go-to. Natural remedies are less effective than DEET, and have to be applied much more frequently.

What’s interesting is that Dr Knols’ research in fact does the opposite job – it is a mosquito attractant. But we think it might just be worth getting a few itchy bites to kill off a few of our arch nemeses.

We’re coming for you, mozzies.

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