Some viruses can ensure that human body odor develops into a lure for mosquitoes. As a result, the mosquitoes bite more often, thereby accelerating the spread of the virus itself.

It’s an alliance that nobody needs. When viruses and mosquitoes cooperate, it rarely bodes well. Mosquitoes play an important role as carriers of various infectious agents. But that’s not all. A research team from Tsinghua University in Beijing is now reporting that some viruses, to put it bluntly, can perform a kind of magic trick. They ensure that mosquitoes can smell infected people particularly well. The result: stitches. Lots and lots of stitches. As the research team reports in the journal Cell, people who are infected with the Zika or dengue virus secrete a substance that the stingrays particularly like. Bacteria are responsible for the development, which can multiply particularly well on the skin due to infection with so-called flaviviruses. The substance, it is acetophenone, acts like an attractant for mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are attracted by scent

The scientists noticed this mechanism when working with mice. They observed that mosquitoes bite mice infected with dengue or Zika viruses and then examined the odor molecules of healthy and infected mice. As a result, they identified the molecule acetophenone. In healthy people, an antimicrobial protein keeps this odorant from developing excessively. However, if a person is infected with flaviviruses, this protein (RELMα) is suppressed and cannot “work” as usual. The researchers assume that the virus manipulates the microbiome of the infected so that it can spread itself better.

The key to counteracting the mechanism may be found in acne remedies. Among other things, isotretinoin is used in these. This boosts the production of RELMα. Mice that were fed the vitamin A derivative were no longer bothered by the mosquitoes than healthy mice. So they got bitten less often. However, isotretinoin does not work against the virus infection itself.

The research team also sees the discovery as an opportunity for infection prevention. In the future, scientists also want to treat human dengue patients with isotretinoin preparations. They hope, according to Gong Cheng, who is part of the research team, that this will “reduce mosquito activity” caused by acetophenone. This could then limit the spread of dengue fever.Source: Cell