Sept. 22, 2012, 10:17 p.m.
After two African villages started using mosquito nets to fight malaria, the local mosquitoes seemed to change their biting habits to skirt the barriers, according to a French study.
Insecticide-treated bed nets are considered a central weapon in the global fight against malaria, which is transmitted by parasite carrying mosquitoes and kills more than 650,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization.
In the study, which appeared in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, French researchers zeroed in on mosquito behaviour before and after all households in two African villages were given insecticide-treated nets.
They found that mosquitoes seemed to change their hours of "peak aggression" from 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to around 5 a.m. three years after nets were put up. And in one village, the proportion of mosquito bites inflicted outdoors rose.
Outdoor bites accounted for 45 per cent of all bites at the outset but rose to 68 per cent one year later and 61 per cent after three years.
The finding is "worrying since villagers usually wake up before dawn to work in crops, and as such they are not protected by mosquito nets," senior researcher Vincent Corbel, of the Montpellier, France-based Institute of Research for Development, said in an email.
Still, the results come from just two villages in one country, Benin. "We cannot extrapolate to a wider geographical area and/or a different entomological context," Corbel warned.
Mosquito nets have been credited with spurring big drops in malaria deaths, and a report for the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group that publishes rigorous reviews, estimated that for every 1,000 children protected by an insecticide-treated net, five to six lives would be saved every year.
But in recent years, malaria cases have started to climb again in certain African countries, Corbel said.