Hacking Scents

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The dengue and Zika viruses can make an infected host more attractive to mosquitoes, according to a new study.

Scientists found that the two viruses are able to alter the scent of their host, practically turning them into a mosquito magnet, Deutsche Welle reported.

Tropical diseases such as dengue and Zika are spread via mosquitoes: When the bugs bite infected people, they carry the virus and spread it to healthy individuals and other animals.

Past studies have shown that some microorganisms – such as the malaria-spreading plasmodium – can hack the body to change its odor to attract more mosquitoes.

In their experiments, researchers placed a group of infected mice with Zika or dengue in one enclosure and a healthy control group in another. They then observed where the pesky insects would go after and saw that two-thirds of them would target the infected rodents.

When the team analyzed air samples from each enclosure, they found that infected mice produced a lot of “acetophenone,” a compound that occurs naturally in many foods, such as cheese, apricots and beef.

To test if acetophenone was the culprit, researchers sprayed a number of rodents and human volunteers. Unsurprisingly, the insects were drawn to the smell.

The authors determined that higher acetophenone levels were generated by an interaction between hosts’ skin microbiota, flaviviruses – which cause Zika and dengue fever – and insects.

They also discovered that dietary isotretinoin – a commercially available acne medication derived from Vitamin A – helped reduce the production of acetophenone in infected mice.

The study could help scientists to find ways to limit the spread of the viruses through mosquito bites.

“We may develop a novel avenue to interrupt the dissemination of flaviviruses by mosquitoes in the future,” said co-author Gong Cheng.

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