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Anopheles plumbeus (Diptera: Culicidae) in Europe: a mere nuisance mosquito or potential malaria vector?

Francis Schaffner1*, Isabelle Thiéry2, Christian Kaufmann1, Agnès Zettor2, Christian Lengeler3, Alexander Mathis1 and Catherine Bourgouin24*

Author Affiliations

1 Vector Entomology Unit, Institute of Parasitology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstrasse 266a, Zürich, CH-8057, Switzerland

2 Centre de Production et d’Infection des Anophèles, Plate-forme CEPIA, Institut Pasteur, 28 rue du Dr Roux, Paris, 75724, France

3 Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Socinstrasse 57, Basel, CH-4002, Switzerland

4 Present address: Genetics and Genomics of Insect Vectors, Institut Pasteur, 28 rue du Dr Roux, Paris, 75724, France

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Malaria Journal 2012, 11:393  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-393

Published: 26 November 2012



Anopheles plumbeus has been recognized as a minor vector for human malaria in Europe since the beginning of the 20th century. In recent years this tree hole breeding mosquito species appears to have exploited novel breeding sites, including large and organically rich man-made containers, with consequently larger mosquito populations in close vicinity to humans. This lead to investigate whether current populations of An. plumbeus would be able to efficiently transmit Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for the most deadly form of malaria.


Anopheles plumbeus immatures were collected from a liquid manure pit in Switzerland and transferred as adults to the CEPIA (Institut Pasteur, France) where they were fed on P. falciparum gametocytes produced in vitro. Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes served as controls. Development of P. falciparum in both mosquito species was followed by microscopical detection of oocysts on mosquito midguts and by sporozoite detection in the head/thorax by PCR and microscopy.


A total of 293 wild An. plumbeus females from four independent collections successfully fed through a membrane on blood containing P. falciparum gametocytes. Oocysts were observed in mosquito midguts and P. falciparum DNA was detected in head-thorax samples in all four experiments, demonstrating, on a large mosquito sample, that An. plumbeus is indeed receptive to P. falciparum NF54 and able to produce sporozoites. Importantly, the proportion of sporozoites-infected An. plumbeus was almost similar to that of An. gambiae (31 to 88% An. plumbeus versus 67 to 97% An. gambiae). However, the number of sporozoites produced was significantly lower in infected An. plumbeus.


The results show that a sample of field-caught An. plumbeus has a moderate to high receptivity towards P. falciparum. Considering the increased mobility of humans between Europe and malaria endemic countries and changes in environment and climate, these data strongly suggest that An. plumbeus could act as a vector for malaria and thus significantly contribute to increasing the malaria transmission risk in Central-Western Europe. In locations showing high vulnerability to the presence of gametocyte carriers, the risk of transmission of malaria by An. plumbeus should be considered.