A cheap deworming pill used in Africa for 25 years against river blindness was recently shown to have a power that scientists had long suspected but never before demonstrated in the field: When mosquitoes bite people who have recently swallowed the drug — called ivermectin or Mectizan — they die.
Where can I get some of this? I would love to watch mosquitoes die. It turns out, though, there are a couple of drawbacks.
Other scientists caution that while the mosquito-poisoning trick is pretty nifty, it is not very practical: For it to work effectively, nearly everyone in a mosquito-infested area must take the pills simultaneously.
Getting thousands of villagers to do that even in annual deworming campaigns is a logistical nightmare, scientists said. The mosquito-killing effect appears to fade out within a month, so it would need to be repeated monthly.
Also, in rare cases, the otherwise safe drug can be lethal.
It doesn’t seem to kill the mosquitoes right away. It shortens their life span so that they do not live long enough to acquire the parasites that cause malaria. That’s not as much fun as having mosquitoes bite me and then die, but it could be very useful for controlling malaria. Still this is Africa so distribution is a problem. Not to mention health problems not generally found in the developed world.
We hand it out once a year,” said the parasitologist, Dr. Frank O. Richards Jr. “I’m pushing for twice a year, and people want to kill me. It’s very difficult to imagine a once-a-month program anywhere.”
It might be useful, he suggested, in areas with brief, intense malaria seasons.
Also, when people with lots of worms are treated, they suffer fever and intense itching as the worms die. Though that might be bearable once a year, it discourages people from seeking treatment more frequently. And ivermectin is dangerous for a few people — those infested with large numbers of a relatively rare West African worm, the loa loa. These worms circulate in the blood and lungs and may jam capillaries when they die, potentially causing coma or death. Detecting them means drawing blood and viewing it under a microscope.
Still, it is promising and I hope it works out.
Did I mention that I really hate mosquitoes?
Hat tip to Instapundit.