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Mosquitoes Find Pregnant Women Irresistible
LONDON, June 2 (Reuters) - Expectant mothers have a much higher risk of contracting malaria than other women because they are more attractive and vulnerable to mosquitoes, scientists said on Friday.

Pregnant women are often described as having a special glow and it seems mosquitoes find it irresistible.

Scientists from the University of Durham in northern England and the Medical Research Council in the Gambia studied the phenomenon and found that pregnant women are bitten twice as often by mosquitoes as other women.

They suspect the insects are lured to their prey by the extra amount of body chemicals released during pregnancy. "Pregnant women exhale greater volumes of air and there are all sorts of chemical goodies in exhaled breath which might be used by malaria mosquitoes for tracking humans," Dr Steve Lindsay, a malaria expert at Durham, told Reuters.

Their body temperature is also higher and they sweat more easily, creating ideal conditions for natural skin bacteria which also attract mosquitoes.

In a study reported in the medical journal The Lancet, the researchers said that not only are pregnant women physically attractive to mosquitoes, but their changing behaviour also makes them more vulnerable.

When Lindsay and his colleagues compared the number of mosquito bites on 72 pregnant and non-pregnant Gambian women sleeping under mosquito nets in identical huts for three nights, they found that the pregnant women left the safety of the net more often during the night -- and had twice as many bites as their non-pregnant companions.

"This study underlines the importance of protection, particularly for women in their first pregnancy," said Lindsay.


"Interventions such as putting insecticide on mosquito nets should be targeted at pregnant women," he added.

The researchers are hoping that the findings of the study will lead to the development of new treatments to make pregnant women less appealing to mosquitoes.

"We are already looking into the use of bacterial soap to reduce the chemical signals produced by skin bacteria which helps mosquitoes find blood," Lindsay said.

"And we are planning to collaborate with Dutch scientists to investigate which skin chemicals are most attractive to mosquitoes. Ultimately this could lead to more effective repellents which block the most telling odours," he added.

Malaria kills about 1.1 million people each year. Over 90 percent of cases are in Africa and two-thirds are children. In pregnant women, malaria causes anemia and can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and low birth weight in their babies.

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