The key to fighting malaria-carrying mosquitoes may have been in our hands the whole time.
Scientists at the University of Texas at El Paso discovered that adding soap to certain pesticides made the formulations 10 times stronger, as reported by Phys.org. The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Colince Kamdem, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at UTEP’s Department of Biological Sciences, said that inspiration came from the World Health Organization’s existing protocols, which recommend adding seed oil–based products to insecticides.
“That compound belongs to the same class of substances as kitchen soap,” he told Phys.org. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we test products that have same properties?’”
The study utilized three inexpensive, popular brands of soap in sub-Saharan Africa, as more than 90% of malaria infections and deaths occur in the WHO Africa Region.
“All three brands of soap increase [mosquito] mortality from 30% to 100% compared to when the insecticides were used on their own,” said Ashu Fred, the first author of the study and a Ph.D. student.
To this point, malaria hasn’t been a significant concern in the United States, in part because the parasites that drive the infection need the type of heat typically found in tropical and subtropical areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Roughly half of the global population is at risk, though, and those numbers could grow.
Temperatures have warmed worldwide because of human activities, including the use of dirty energy such as oil, gas, and coal, making new areas attractive to mosquitoes.
According to a study published on the U.N.’s official website, initial projections indicate “that this increase [in temps] will enhance the transmission rates of mosquito-borne disease and widen its geographical distribution.”
As scientists continue looking into the relationship between rising temperatures and the spread of malaria, along with other mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue, the development of new solutions is vital.
As noted in the latest world malaria report by WHO, the disease killed more than 600,000 people in 2021, most of them children.
Mosquitoes have begun showing resistance to previously successful insecticides, as the researchers at UTEP pointed out, and the toxic chemicals used to create them are well known for their negative impacts on the environment.
The authors of the study hope they can use soap to ultimately create a healthier insecticide for indoor use.
“There are unknowns as to whether such a formulation will stick to materials like mosquito nets, but the challenge is both promising and very exciting,” Kamdem said, per Phys.org.
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