Malaria infections have been rampant for years now and all this time we’ve used insecticide-soaked mosquito nets and numerous mosquito repellants to keep them away. But the drive for the search for better repellants has to lead to newer alternatives and a new study may have encountered a new one.
The said weapon is familiar to an anti-malarial drug that’s already been used by humans to prevent them from contracting the disease, and researchers now envisage using it on netting like insecticides. The study findings show that the drug works on mosquitos, killing the malaria parasite in the insects and preventing it from being transmitted.
It has the potential to be an important breakthrough in the battle against a disease that killed 435,000 people in 2017, the majority of them children under five in Africa.
In 2017, the number of malaria cases climbed to 219 million, a worrying rise from the previous year and a sign that long-standing progress is being reversed.
The research team included Flaminia Catteruccia, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard University said that they found exposing mosquitos to even low doses of an anti-malarial called atovaquone or ATQ caused "full parasite arrest".
"We tested a couple of antimalarials, and it worked beautifully with ATQ: all parasites were killed!" Catteruccia told AFP by email.
The research team tried to simulate the conditions in which insects land on nets by feeding two groups of mosquitos with malaria-infected blood and then exposed one group to surfaces coated with ATQ.
Just six minutes of contact with the surface -- around the time the insects would usually spend on a net trying to land a bite -- wiped out the malaria parasites in the mosquitos.
The control group mosquitos that weren't exposed to ATQ however "showed a high prevalence and intensity of (malaria) infection", the study said. The researchers said computer modeling showed their novel approach would "substantially mitigate the global health effects of insecticide resistance" in the fight against malaria.
- 'Substantial hurdles' - "We are quite excited that this new idea could really help in the fight against malaria in a manner that is safe for people that sleep under those nets and for the environment," Catteruccia said.
"Substantial hurdles must be overcome before a product is generated that is recommended and universally accepted by funders, countries, and communities for use in control programmes," she wrote in a review of the research commissioned by Nature.
There are also other factors at play in the growing number of malaria infections, experts say, including a decline in funding for campaigns against the infection and a related drop in the use of insecticide-treated nets.