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Everyone knows mosquitoes have a taste for blood, but did you know they have an even bigger sweet tooth?
Mosquitoes love sugar.
Just as humans are drawn to the sweet smell of a chocolate shop or bakery, mosquitoes find the smell of sugar irresistible.
All mosquitoes need sugar to survive. Female mosquitoes consume blood to lay eggs, but both male and female mosquitoes require sugar for energy. In fact, even though mosquitoes buzzing in your ears may appear single-minded about biting you, they need sugar more often than they need blood.
Exploiting this craving, researchers have developed a lethal new tool to kill mosquitoes and protect people living in areas at high risk for malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Here’s how it works: In nature, mosquitoes get sugar from flower nectar and plants. But scientists have developed a tempting bait that lures mosquitoes with a highly attractive fruit scent. When they land on it to get their sugar fix, the mosquitoes begin feasting on a sweet meal laced with insecticide. Not long after, they drop dead, reducing mosquito populations and, researchers hope, the spread of malaria in the communities where the traps are used.
While other insects, like bees and butterflies, may also be drawn to the bait’s sweet scent, the bait is just lethal for mosquitoes. A protective membrane, only accessible to mosquitoes, covers the bait and prevents other insects from feasting on the deadly meal inside.
This new mosquito control tool, called Attractive Targeted Sugar Baits or ATSBs, developed by Westham Co., is simple to use, affordable, and has the potential to be a game changer in the effort to eradicate malaria.
And it couldn’t arrive soon enough.
Over the past two decades, the world has dramatically reduced the global burden of malaria, preventing 1.7 billion cases and saving 10.6 million lives. This progress has been attributed, in large part, to the widescale use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, which protect people from bites while they sleep, and indoor residual spraying, which kills mosquitoes that land on insecticide-treated walls and ceilings in homes.
As effective as these tools have been, both mosquitoes and the malaria parasite are constantly evolving, sometimes making these interventions less effective. We’ve seen this again and again with resistance to insecticides and malaria drugs. And that’s why it’s critical that the world continues to innovate with new ways to prevent the spread of malaria.
In response to the widespread use of bed nets and indoor insecticide spraying, mosquitoes have changed their behaviors, according to some researchers. In some areas, instead of seeking their blood meals only inside homes after bedtime, malaria-carrying mosquitoes are now biting outside homes, and earlier in the evening, when people will often cook and socialize.
And this is how the sugar baits fit in.
By attracting mosquitoes outside, sugar baits offer a highly effective mosquito control tool for households. About the size of a sheet of notebook paper, sugar baits can be easily installed with a hammer and a nail. Two baits hung on the adjacent outside walls of a home are enough to offer months of protection.
In studies conducted in Mali in 2016 and 2017 researchers found that the sugar baits dramatically reduced mosquito populations and malaria cases in the communities where they were used.
A more recent modeling analysis predicted that sugar baits, when used to complement long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying, could reduce malaria cases by 30 percent in areas with high malaria burdens.
In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases. A 30 percent reduction in malaria cases would be a huge breakthrough and save many lives.
That’s why our foundation has been supporting the development of sugar baits, including sponsoring a large-scale field trial currently underway in Kenya, Mali, and Zambia. So far, the results have confirmed the effectiveness of the bait stations.
If all goes well with the trials, sugar baits could be available for widespread use as soon as next year.
No need to sugarcoat it. For the millions of people at risk of malaria around the world, that would be welcome news.