Malaria is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. People get infected through a mosquito bite after which the symptoms can vary from a mild feverish disease to a deadly one. There are some people though who don’t develop any symptoms – but they can still transmit malaria. This makes it more difficult to control the disease as there are more infected people out there than it appears. Other researchers have discovered that malaria can change people’s odor in order to attract mosquitoes. We wanted to see if we could use these changes to identify malaria cases.
We collected odor and blood samples from approximately 400 children from Kenya. We observed different odor patterns in children who were infected with malaria and showed symptoms, those who were infected but did not have symptoms, and uninfected children. Using these patterns we were able to predict who has malaria and who does not, regardless of whether they showed symptoms.