The great outdoors … for mosquitoes

The press has had a field day over the publication of data in Science that identifies a new population subgroup of the African malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. The mosquito variant in adult form is hard to catch and in the laboratory, very susceptible to malaria infection.

The authors clearly point out that there is no evidence yet that the GOUNDRY mosquito, named after a village in Burkina Faso where the researchers worked, is highly attracted to humans. The press has rounded up experts like William Black, a medical entomologist at Colorado State University to speculate on the matter. Black was quoted in the LA Times thus …

“We’ve got egg on our face. We’ve been working with this mosquito for so long … and right under our noses, here’s this other form of mosquito,” he said — one that could force researchers “to start thinking about what’s going on outside of those huts.”

Again Science itself accurately headlines an editorial on the article by saying that these findings could have ‘unexpected’ results.

Because the new mosquitoes were found in the same larval pool collections and were genetically indistinguishable from indoor-resting adult mosquitoes, the options for control point to larviciding should ‘Goundry’ prove a threat to humans.  This is a challenging control measure as not all larval pools are easily visible and in fact may be multitudinous. Of course prompt and appropriate treatment and IPTp have to be part of the mix, despite health systems weaknesses in delivering medicines that may be more of a threat right now than the mosquitoes.

The key lesson is not that an immediate, previously unknown threat lurks outside our huts, but that nature and malaria can continue to surprise us.  We have surveillance in Southeast Asia for parasite resistance and the growing potential for human-primate malaria transmission, to name a few of the upcoming challenges to eliminating this ancient disease. Vigilence is the key.

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