Clinical trials are currently being carried out on a vaccine that could potentially protect humans against all mosquito-borne diseases. Still in the early stages, if tests are successful it could save countless lives.
According to the World Health Organisation, diseases spread by mosquitoes kill millions of people each year, making them one of the most deadly animals in the world, possibly even the most deadly. Malaria, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and zika are all transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, and more often than not it is the world's poorest who are most at risk. And despite huge efforts to reduce the numbers of infections, the worldwide incidence of dengue has risen 30-fold in the past 30 years, and in the Americas zika is once again an epidemic.
In February of this year, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced the launch of a clinical trial to test an innovative new vaccine, designed to protect against mosquito-borne diseases in a completely different way to others currently in use.
How Does It Work?
Developed by a London-based biotech company called SEEK, the vaccine, called ASG, doesn't give immunity to a particular disease - it provokes an immune response to the mosquito's saliva instead. So rather than just protecting against a single virus, such as the yellow fever vaccine for example, it could prevent infection from mosquitoes carrying a whole range of different diseases.
And it could also have another hugely beneficial side effect, by turning the humans who receive the injection into a sort of walking mosquito-killing machine. It's still only a suppostion, but it's possible that the mosquitoes who feed from a person vaccinated with ASG might themselves end up being harmed by it - perhaps dying earlier or being unable to reproduce.
The vaccine reacts to mosquito saliva rather than the presence of any specific disease.
The trial is small, with just 60 participants, and similar anti-saliva vaccines haven't been successful, but the premise is still an interesting one. And if this trial does result in a useable vaccine, it would be huge development for public health and a potential life-saver for millions.