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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 02:05 GMT
Mouthwash could tackle malaria
Malaria case
A suspected malaria case in Africa
A chemical ingredient of mouthwash is being hailed as a new weapon against the malaria parasite.

Triclosan, also found in acne medications and some deodorants, seems to be able to prevent the growth of Plasmodium falciparum.

This is the parasite carried in the saliva of mosquitoes which causes as many as 2.7m deaths worldwide every year.

While a practical way of using the agent has yet to be fully developed, the increasing resistance of the parasite to existing anti-malarial drugs is causing concern to health officials.

Any potential new avenue of attack is likely to be fully investigated, particularly as triclosan could prove cheaper to manufacture than many existing antimalarials.

Triclosan is the anti-bacterial ingredient of mouthwashes, and acne medications, but has never been considered as something which could be used in the blood.

In tests on animals at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, India, one of the key stages by which a malarial infection develops was inhibited.

Reports of resistance to triclosan are relatively uncommon.

An accompanying editorial, however, suggested that using even well-established compounds such as triclosan would be unlikely to bring new treatments into action swiftly.

Long wait

It said: "Unfortunately, the costs of develop new antimalarials are often perceived as outweighing potential profits.

"Development typically takes about four years, with no guarantee of a marketable product.

"The relatively high cost of new drugs is a major obstacle to their use in resource-poor settings where the burden of malaria is greatest."

Approximately 40% of world's population lives in malaria-endemic areas - most cases occur in tropical Africa.

Strategies including the widespread use of insecticides have had some success in reducing the number of malaria cases.

The research was reported in Nature Medicine journal.

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