New skeeter bugs malaria control campaign

Anopheles gambiae
Anopheles gambiae
CDC

One of the big news stories in the malaria world recently is the discovery, announced last week in the journal Science, of a previously unknown type of mosquito that some reports said could threaten malaria control efforts in Africa.

Here’s the problem: Most malaria control efforts in Africa — bednets, spraying — are aimed at preventing mosquitoes from biting humans indoors at night. This newly discovered mosquito, dubbed “Goundry” (after the community in Burkina Faso where it was identified), appears to operate outdoors. The news reports:

After reading a number of these stories that cited the scientists who made this discovery warning that this new skeeter could undermine the massive — and apparently fairly successful — ongoing effort to reduce malaria deaths and disease in Africa, I decided to get a second opinion.

I asked Stefan Kappe, a malaria expert at Seattle Biomed, for his thoughts on this. Kappe and his colleagues are working on a number of fronts to combat malaria, including testing a genetically engineered malaria parasite for use as a vaccine.

Stefan Kappe
Seattle Biomed

“If it turns out that this mosquito is a significant vector for human malaria, the whole malaria control strategy will fail,” said Kappe. But that, he says, remains a big “if” because it’s quite possible this particular sub-type is one of those that doesn’t bite humans.

The species Anopheles gambiae, of which the Goundry bug is a subtype, does transmit malaria and Goundry has been shown to carry the malaria parasite.

But it’s worth considering that, in the mosquito world, there are some 3,500 known species of mosquito — most which don’t carry malaria and most of which aren’t attracted to biting humans for their blood meal.

“What they did not show is that this mosquito will actually bite and transmit malaria to humans,” said Kappe. “It might seem like a trivial question but it’s not really.”

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.