A commonly used anti-parasite drug could be the next weapon in the fight against malaria. Researchers from Kenya and the United Kingdom have reported that dosing people with ivermectin, a drug commonly used in heartworm pills, makes them deadly targets for the mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Their studies showed that nearly all the mosquitoes in the experiment died after drinking the ivermectin-laced blood.
Malaria rates have dropped dramatically over the years, although, the disease still afflicts over 200 million people a year and was responsible for nearly half a million deaths in 2015. There are worries that resistance to artemisinin, the drug typically used for combating malaria, could continue to spread beyond Southeast Asia, where most resistant strains are currently found.
Ivermectin could be another solution. Researchers gave 47 malaria patients 600mg doses of ivermectin for three consecutive days, around three-times the regular dosage. After feeding the patients’ blood to mosquitoes, the researchers reported that 97% of the insects died after two weeks, and the blood remained deadly for up to 28 days.
Patients, meanwhile, reported to experience little side effects. A separate group of patients received doses of 300mg per day, but the mosquito-killing effect wasn’t as strong.
It remains unknown how safe the drug is for children, especially at such high doses. Researchers also noted that their participants were all malaria patients, so the effects could differ in healthy people. There are also worries of drug resistance of ivermectin as well, if it begins to see widespread use, mosquitoes may begin to evolve immunity.
The drug represents a cheap and easily obtainable method of mosquito control that could help control the spread of one of the world’s most deadly diseases. However, more in depth drug research is required before this can become an effective treatment.
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