Common Drug May Stop Malaria’s Spread

Common Drug May Stop Malaria’s Spread


Scientists may have hit on a way to prevent the transmission of malaria with a drug originally developed to treat parasitic illnesses. The drug, whose creators were honored with a Nobel Prize, is called ivermectin, and it’s being tested in parts of Africa.

Ivermectin has completely revolutionized the treatment of worm diseases such as river blindness and elephantiasis and could lead to their eradication if it’s used effectively.

Now it appears ivermectin may be effective against the spread of malaria. Vector biologist Brian Foy of Colorado State University in the United States led a study in Burkina Faso that found a reduction in childhood malaria when the drug was given to adults in the region. The ongoing trial involves giving a single dose of ivermectin once every three weeks to the majority of people in four villages. Small children didn’t receive the drug, but the treatment blocked transmission of malaria in 16 percent of the children, the disease’s main victims.

Foy says ivermectin, even at low levels, is toxic to disease-carrying mosquitos. The drug’s unique action targets the mosquito, not the parasite that causes malaria. For this reason, researchers in the United States and Thailand believe ivermectin might help control transmission of a drug-resistant form of malaria in Southeast Asia.

For now, Foy is cautious about claiming that ivermectin holds the key to stopping malaria transmission. He says more studies are needed. Since the late 1980s, an estimated 1 billion doses of ivermectin have been distributed around the world.