Researchers have found that sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets might protect older children and adults from malaria.
Most human-to-mosquito transmission originates from adults and children over five years of age, who constitute the bulk of the population and are more attractive to mosquitoes.
Current international guidelines recommend providing subsidised bed nets for young children and pregnant women in order to achieve over 80 percent coverage in these high-risk groups.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr Gerry Killeen at the Ifakara Health Research and Development Centre in Tanzania.
As part of the study, researchers used recently developed models of mosquito behaviour and mortality to see the effect of insecticide-treated nets.
Researchers found that the use of the nets could greatly reduce the number of mosquitoes that survived repeated encounters with protected humans. Also, by preventing the mosquitoes feeding on humans, the nets could divert them to feed on other mammals, which do not host the malaria parasite, reducing the number of humans bitten and of mosquitoes carrying the parasite.
"Insecticide-treated nets can protect not only the individuals and households that use them, but also members of the surrounding community. This is because they kill adult mosquitoes directly or force them to undertake longer, more hazardous foraging expeditions in search of blood to feed on and aquatic habitats in which to breed," Dr Killeen said.
The findings of the study were published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine.