The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Can Smelly Feet Save Lives?

Posted by on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012


Whether you’re traveling to a tropical area for business, pleasure, or to do some good, one of the things you’re bound to be warned about before you leave is malaria. There’s a good reason for that–malaria is one of the plagues of the developing world. The disease is transmitted by a type of mosquito that thrives in tropical climates. The seriousness of a bout of malaria ranges from a few days of debilitating sickness (think chills, vomiting, diarrhea) to death. Even the lightest, non-fatal strains of malaria can be devastating for those who are already weakened from malnutrition or who are not able to get the kind of medical care that can help them manage related problems such as dehydration.Over 200 million people contract malaria each year, and 780,000 die from the disease. Most of those who die from malaria are young, African children.

For centuries, people have tried to find a way to deal with malaria cheaply and easily. Recent research has uncovered a potential savior in the unlikeliest of places: your feet!

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Bart Knols, a Dutch scientist, did something that not many of us would do. He stripped and stood naked in the middle of a dark room…filled with mosquitoes. He let them have their way with him, then came out and studied where they had chosen to bite him. It turns out that the mosquitoes were most attracted to his feet. In fact, it was found that the worse a foot smelled, the more mosquitoes were attracted to it.

That was interesting information, but no one knew quite how to apply it to anything–until now. Dr. Fredros Okumu of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania has been experimenting with using foot odor to lure mosquitoes into a trap where they are greeted by poison that kills them. Until recently, most Africans tried to fight the mosquitoes by constantly burning fires that fill the air with smoke, or sleeping under netting, which only helps when you’re in bed. Finding a way to trap and poison the mosquitoes will kill the mosquitoes at a much higher percentage rate, and thus save more lives.

Okumu, who grew up dodging malaria himself, has received a $775,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working to improve the traps and find a way to bring them down in price so they’ll be affordable for everyone. Currently their prices range from $4 to $27.

So should you give up on trying to end your foot odor? Can you help by sending your smelly socks to Tanzania? Unfortunately, no–Okumu is using a chemical compound that simulate human foot odor. However, if you’re traveling in a tropical area, maybe you can keep the mosquitoes away with some strategically placed dirty socks–far away from you!

Of course there are many other diseases that can directly affect the feet, whether you’re traveling in a mosquito-heavy area or just walking down a local street. For help with any kind of foot problem, contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.