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Backyard chicken coops may ward off disease-carrying mosquitoes


(NaturalNews) A major species of malaria-carrying mosquito avoids the smell of chickens, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, published in Malaria Journal.

The study suggests that living in close proximity to chickens may help protect against malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses.

"We were surprised to find that malaria mosquitoes are repelled by the odors emitted by chickens," co-author Rickard Ignell said.

"This study shows for the first time that malaria mosquitoes actively avoid feeding on certain animal species, and that this behavior is regulated through odor cues."

Mosquitoes refuse to bite chickens

In the first part of the study, the researchers collected population numbers on humans and domestic animals in three Ethiopian villages. They also trapped mosquitoes and tested them to determine what species they had recently fed from.

The study was performed on the mosquito species Anopheles arabiensis, one of the major sub-Saharan vectors of malaria.

The researchers found that A. arabiensis preferentially feeds on human beings and prefers to live indoors. When outdoors, however, the mosquito will also drink blood from cattle, sheep and goats. Not a single mosquito was found to have fed from chickens, however, despite the fact that the fowl were prevalent in all three villages.

The researchers concluded from this survey that chickens are not a host species for A. arabiensis, and that therefore the mosquitoes must have some mechanism for identifying chickens in order to avoid them.

To test whether the odor of chickens might repel the mosquitoes, the researchers set up mosquito traps in several separate houses. They had a single human volunteer sleep under an untreated mosquito net beneath each trap, in order to draw mosquitoes in.

Eleven of the traps were filled with chicken feathers, while a live chicken was suspended beneath another trap. Other traps were filled with human hair, wool, or non-chicken bird feathers to serve as a control.

The researchers found that after 11 days, significantly fewer mosquitoes had been caught in the traps with chicken feathers, or in the one that had a live chicken nearby.

The researchers suggested that homes with live chickens or chicken feathers inside them might be less likely to be visited by mosquitoes. Since many people in the villages studied do in fact bring livestock into the house at night, the suggestion is one that could easily and quickly be implemented.

Natural malaria control measures urgently needed

Although malaria rates have recently begun dropping, there are signs that this victory may be short-term. The parasite is rapidly evolving multi-drug resistance in southeast Asia, sparking fears that drug containment efforts may soon falter.

"The risks are significant," said Robert Newman, director of the WHO's Global Malaria Program, in 2013.

"If history is any guide, if we were not to contain this problem then it is very likely to spread elsewhere," he said. "Especially risky is to sub-Saharan Africa [sic] ... this really would be a public health catastrophe."

Meanwhile, the mosquitoes that transmit the parasite continue to resist eradication efforts. A. arabiensis has been particularly difficult to control.

"People in sub-Saharan Africa have suffered considerably under the burden of malaria over an extended period of time and mosquitoes are becoming increasingly physiologically resistant to pesticides, while also changing their feeding habits, for example, by moving from indoors to outdoors," Ignell said.

"For this reason there is a need to develop novel control methods."

Further research will be needed to determine whether specific mosquito-repelling scents can be isolated from chicken feathers, and whether the smell of chickens also repels mosquitoes that carry other diseases, such as West Nile Virus or dengue.

Backyard chickens may help keep mosquitoes away from your home, but for when you go out into nature, try the Health Ranger's Bugs Away Spray from the Natural News Store. This repellent spray is free of synthetic chemicals or fragrances, containing only organic witch hazel and essential oils.

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