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New Malaria Spreader Discovered in Kenya

FILE - A health worker prepares a malaria vaccination for a child in Yala, Kenya, on Oct. 7, 2021.
FILE - A health worker prepares a malaria vaccination for a child in Yala, Kenya, on Oct. 7, 2021.

Researchers in Kenya say they've detected an invasive mosquito that can transmit malaria in different climates, threatening progress to fight the parasitic disease.

The Kenya Medical Research Institute this week urged the public to use mosquito nets and clean up areas where mosquitos can breed following the detection of a new malaria carrier, which was first discovered in Djibouti in 2012.

The new carrier, the Anopheles stephensi mosquito, transmits plasmodium vivax, the parasite the causes the deadliest type of malaria.

Bernhards Ogutu, chief researcher at Kenya Medical Research Institute, says it was only a matter of time before the mosquito was discovered in the country after it appeared in Ethiopia and South Sudan.

“We’ve not been able to pick plasmodium vivax which is found in Asia and Kenya. It's there in Ethiopia and this vector can also transmit it," said Ogutu. "So that will also look at whether we might have plasmodium vivax in coming up with this new vector showing in our place. Vivax is more difficult to treat in that you can get treated and real up because it keeps staying in the body and the liver.”

Malaria affects over 229 million people each year and kills over 400,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.

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More than a quarter of a million children die in Africa each year as a result of the mosquito-borne disease, including over 10,000 in Kenya.

Ogutu expressed concern for urban residents, saying that the new carrier may feed on poor environmental management systems.

“So the fact that this can survive in urban areas where water is not clean and that can transmit, that’s the worry people are having. For the time being its to monitor and see to what extent we are going to have its spreading and what impact it will be having," Ogutu said.

Redentho Dabelen, a public officer in the Marsabit County town of Laisamis where the vector was discovered, says experts are going to communities to teach people how to protect themselves from the disease.

“To sensitize them and teach them how to prevent themselves from the vector bites. We are trying to spray the houses," Dabelen said. "We are trying to tell them about the disease through the community health volunteers and if they get infected they go to the hospital.”

According to the researchers, the population should continue to use malaria control tools such as sleeping under mosquito nets and practicing good environmental management and sanitation.

In 2021, the WHO approved a malaria vaccine for children aged five months to two years that has been shown to reduce child deaths.