July 12, 2011

Drug could Help Lower Malaria Transmission

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Killing over 780,000 people each year, malaria is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. Finding a cure has been the goal of scientists for many years. Now a cheap and common medication used to treat lice in children and heartworm in pets, could add malaria to the list of diseases it helps control.

According to the World Health Organization, new approaches to combat malaria are in constant demand. Current methods of avoiding transmission rely mainly on sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets and spraying indoors with mosquito poisons. Scientists from Senegal and Colorado State University found that transmission of malaria parasites by mosquitoes fell substantially over two weeks among people living in several Senegalese villages who took the drug ivermectin. The drug appeared to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes that fed on the blood of the villagers.

"There is no silver bullet for malaria control," Brian D. Foy, Ph.D., a vector biologist at Colorado State University and the article's senior author, was quoted saying. "But this could be an important tool that would also contribute to the fight against other neglected diseases. It's clearly a multipurpose drug."

Ivermectin is currently used to treat river blindness in Africa. It is also effective against variety of parasitic worms including those that cause elephantiasis. It can help prevent heartworm in animals and kills insects that commonly affect children, like lice.

"If using ivermectin works to reduce transmission, people will have a drug circulating in their blood that could kill mosquitoes anywhere and at any time of day," Dr. Foy said.

Researchers collected mosquitoes from villages where people were taking Ivermectin and compared them to collections gathered at the same time from villages where people were not taking the drug. In locations where people were taking ivermectin, two weeks after the drug was administered there was a 79 percent decline in mosquitoes carrying Plasmodium falciparum"”the world's most deadly malaria parasite. In villages where ivermectin was not in use, malaria-bearing mosquitoes increased by 246 percent over the same period.

The study suggests it might be possible to use the drug to reduce malaria transmission during epidemics or in well defined transmission seasons. Larger, longer studies will be needed to show weather more frequent doses of ivermectin during malaria season have an important impact on the disease.

Source: American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, July 2011.