Researchers are working on an innovative way to use body odor profile to identify if an individual is infected with malaria.

The team hopes that this new tool will be able to detect the infection even among asymptomatic carriers.

Altered Body Odors Of People Infected With Malaria

Consuelo De Moraes, adjunct professor of biology at Penn State and professor of environmental systems science at ETH Zurich, explained that the team had previously established that malaria infection could cause lasting changes to the odor of infected mice. The said study also showed that infected mice were more attractive to mosquitoes.

In the current study, the team led by Mark Mescher, a behavioral ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, examined whether the same odor change is happening to malaria-infected individuals.

To identify the changes in body odor, researchers observed the defining characteristics of volatile organic compounds or VOCs released by people infected with Plasmodium, the virus that causes malaria. VOCs are chemicals usually perceived as scents.

The group tested 400 children that are attending schools in areas in western Kenya where malaria is widespread. The scientists collected VCOs from the air obtained from the surface of the children's skin. They subsequently analyzed the acquired VCOs by employing an analytical method called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

"Our models identified asymptomatic infections with 100 percent sensitivity, even in the case of low-level infections not detectable by microscopy," the researchers wrote in the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They clarified that malaria infection does not trigger a new odor in the body of those infected. Instead, the contagion increases or decreases the VCOs that were already found in the odor of the people prior to the infection.

The researchers focused on the scent of individuals with asymptomatic malaria. Mosquitoes find the scent of people infected with malaria more attractive. When the insect latches on another person, it passes on the virus to others.

Among malaria transmissions, asymptomatic carriers account for up to 90 percent. By developing the tool, it will be easier to determine if a person has malaria or not even if they don't exhibit any symptom of the infection.

Biomarkers Of Asymptomatic Malaria Infection

Mescher pointed out that the study is based only on a single population and his team remained unsure whether the same conclusion applies to other populations from different countries.

"Is it the same profile for people with different diets, different lifestyles? We don't know if we need to fine-tune the profile for different countries," Mescher said.

Nevertheless, the team will refine their current findings to find the most reliable and effective biomarkers of malaria infections, particularly in infected people without symptoms but contribute greatly to the transmission.

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