New Species of Malaria-Transmitting Mosquito Found in Kenya

An international team of entomologists has discovered a potentially dangerous new malaria-transmitting mosquito.

A study, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, reveals that the new mosquito has an unknown DNA match to any of the existing malaria-transmitting species and breeds in the western areas of Kenya.

“We observed that many mosquitoes we caught, including those infected with malaria, did not physically resemble other known malaria mosquitoes,” explained study lead author Dr Jennifer Stevenson, Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Analysis indicated that their DNA differed from sequences available for known malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in Africa.”

The Anopheles species of mosquitoes which transmits malaria in Africa is already widely studied by researchers. It prefers to rest indoors during the day and feed on humans during the night. Current malaria control programs, including spraying of insecticides and using insecticide-treated bed nets, are designed with these behaviors in mind.

“These unidentified mosquitoes are potentially dangerous because they are outdoor-active and early-biting, and so may evade the current indoor-based interventions to control mosquitoes. In this way, they may prevent the complete suppression of malaria transmission in the area,” Dr Stevenson.

Although the new species has never been implicated in the transmission of malaria, new discoveries in its biting habits pose a threat because it was found to be active outdoors and prefers to bite people earlier in the evening, soon after sunset, when people are not protected by current malaria control techniques.

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Bibliographic information: Jennifer Stevenson et al. 2012. Novel Vectors of Malaria Parasites in the Western Highlands of Kenya. Emerging Infectious Diseases, volume 18, number 9; doi: 10.3201/eid1809.120283