Methylene blue, in combination with a known treatment for malaria, has shown great promise in eradicating parasites causing the spread of the fatal disease.
Sold in pet stores as a cure for fungal infection in tropical fishes, the tinted dye is actually the oldest malaria drug there is. However, it never really took off because of its nasty side effects: blue urine and poop.
In a study published Feb. 5 in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers added the dye to dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine and discovered the compound could wipe out infectious parasites in as fast as two days.
This means, if a mosquito bit a patient who is already recovering from malaria after using the combination drug, it wouldn't have any living parasite to transfer into its next human victim. This, therefore, cuts the cycle of transmission.
Spreading Malaria Through Waves Of Gametocytes
A total of 80 males participated in the study who are between 5 and 50 years of age. All of them had gametocytes or malaria parasites that already reached the stage where they are transmissible from humans to carrier mosquitoes. Throughout an entire week of screening, none of them were suffering from symptoms of the disease or taking any form of treatment.
The participants were then divided into four, with each group receiving a different kind of malaria medication like pills with methylene blue and without the dye. They were also informed of the anticipated side effects which last around seven days.
Researchers observed that as the infection died out, it produced a wave of male and female gametocytes searching for a healthier environment. Although a patient is considered as cured, harmful parasites are still present in the body and such are transferable to unknowing victims through insect bites.
Among all types of treatment, the medication containing both methylene blue and dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine has proven to be the most effective in eliminating gametocytes.
Teun Bousema, a microbiologist with the Radboud University Medical Center in Netherlands and coauthor of the study, also says that most participants reacted with fascination to their blue urine instead of being shocked.
Impact Of Methylene Blue As Cost-Effective Malaria Treatment
This groundbreaking combination could benefit struggling nations such as Mali where the disease remains to be an epidemic despite persistent efforts to prevent transmission. The authorities have already gone as far as giving away bed nets and conducting frequent diagnostic tests.
However, the effects of this potential malaria drug would be most evident in areas where the rate of malaria transmission is already low. Such treatment is expected to bring the level down to zero.