SEATTLE — A new study conducted in Ethiopia has concluded that chickens can repel mosquitos, a finding that can potentially help prevent the spread of malaria.
The study—led by Swedish University of Agricultural Science professor, Rickard Ignell—demonstrated that some mosquitos are less likely to bite chickens than other animals. People who sleep in a room near a chicken or with the odor of the birds can reduce their chances of being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitos.
Malaria remains a threat in Africa after it killed over 390,000 Africans last year. Although malaria infection and death rates have declined, mosquitos have changed their feeding habits and become more resistant to pesticides.
According to a report by NPR, Ignell originally set out to investigate how certain animals interact with mosquitos in order to gain more knowledge about protecting people from the spread of malaria. Prior to his study—which was published in the Malaria Journal—there was little research on how different animals interact with mosquitos.
Ingell’s team trapped 1,172 Anapholes arabiensis—a major malaria-carrying species in sub-Saharan Africa. While the researchers found that mosquitos regularly targeted most of the test animals, including goats, cattle and sheep, just one chicken was bitten.
In another phase of the experiment, people volunteered to sleep with a mosquito trap in their room along with a chicken inside a cage by their bed. Based on the low number of mosquitos found in the traps, Ignell determined that a caged chicken inside a room can significantly reduce the number of mosquitos that enter a house.
Ignell told the Telegraph that mosquitos might avoid chickens because the birds feed on the insects. Chickens also do not have nutritious blood, which gives mosquitos less of an incentive to bite them.
Keeping chickens near bedsides is not the only way that the birds can limit the spread of malaria. Ignell and his team found that mosquitos also stay away from houses that alone smell like chickens.
Using chemical compounds from chicken fur and feathers, the scientists placed devices in rooms that emitted the odor of the birds. Compared to the scents of sheep, cattle and goats, the chicken smell reduced the number of mosquitos found in the traps by 90 to 95 percent, Ignell told NPR.
Although chicken-odor dispensers are not easily accessible, some of the chemical compounds responsible for the smell are present in citrus peels and Mexican marigolds. Ignell said that growing the marigolds or burning the peels could serve as substitutes to the dispensers.
It is unknown whether chickens can also help prevent the transmission of the Zika virus, which is carried by the Aedes aegypti. Zika was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization and has been linked to the birth defect, microcephaly.
– Sam Turken