The larvae of a new malaria-carrying mosquito species are emerging throughout African countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, and Djibouti, a new study has found, raising serious health concerns about the spread of a preventable yet deadly disease.
Anopheles stephensi, the new type of mosquito larvae, is the primary carrier of malaria in India but only appeared in African countries a few years ago, according to CNN.
Researchers from the Netherlands' Radboud University Medical Center and Ethiopia’s Armauer Hansen Research Institute now say that the larvae are “abundantly present” in water containers in cities in Ethiopia.
Mosquito species only pose a health risk if they can carry and spread the malaria parasite, and there are currently 60 identified species of mosquitoes capable of infecting humans with the disease. Throughout the African continent, the Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes are one of the largest sources of malaria transmissions and have even been called the most dangerous animal on the planet.
But Dr. Teun Bousema, professor of epidemiology of tropical diseases at Radboud University, said in a press release that “the Asian mosquito [Anopheles stephensi] turned out to be even more susceptible to local malaria parasites than our Ethiopian mosquito colony.”
Bousema also referred to the mosquito as an “extremely efficient spreader of the two main species of malaria.”
Typically, mosquitoes that can transmit malaria breed in rural areas, but experts are concerned that the presence of Anopheles stephensi in cities will dramatically increase the risk of urban communities.
A person contracts malaria by a bite from a mosquito carrying the parasite. It leads to flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills, but in some cases, it can cause severe complications and lead to death. In 2019, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide, which killed 409,000 people, according to the CDC.
The World Health Organization found that 94% of all cases and deaths in 2019 were in the African region.
With the global community currently fighting the infectious disease COVID-19, the appearance of a new malaria-carrying mosquito species is especially concerning. The pandemic exposed the inequalities in accessing health care and how easily health infrastructure can be overwhelmed by the spread of infectious disease.
That’s why Dr. Fitsum Tadesse, a researcher at Radboud University Medical Center, is calling for an aggressive approach to targeting the new mosquito larvae.
“Only if we act quickly can we prevent the spread to other urban areas on the continent,” he said in a press release. “We must target the mosquito larvae in places where they now occur and prevent mosquitoes from spreading over long distances, for example via airports and sea ports. If that fails, the risk of urban malaria will rise in large parts of Africa.”