Pyrethroid insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) help contribute to reducing malaria deaths in Africa, but their efficacy is threatened by insecticide resistance in some malaria mosquito vectors. We therefore assessed the evidence that resistance is attenuating the effect of ITNs on entomological outcomes.
We included laboratory and field studies of African malaria vectors that measured resistance at the time of the study and used World Health Organization–recommended impregnation regimens. We reported mosquito mortality, blood feeding, induced exophily (premature exit of mosquitoes from the hut), deterrence, time to 50% or 95% knock-down, and percentage knock-down at 60 min. Publications were searched from 1 January 1980 to 31 December 2013 using MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index, African Index Medicus, and CAB Abstracts. We stratified studies into three levels of insecticide resistance, and ITNs were compared with untreated bed nets (UTNs) using the risk difference (RD). Heterogeneity was explored visually and statistically. Included were 36 laboratory and 24 field studies, reported in 25 records. Studies tested and reported resistance inconsistently. Based on the meta-analytic results, the difference in mosquito mortality risk for ITNs compared to UTNs was lower in higher resistance categories. However, mortality risk was significantly higher for ITNs compared to UTNs regardless of resistance. For cone tests: low resistance, risk difference (RD) 0.86 (95% CI 0.72 to 1.01); moderate resistance, RD 0.71 (95% CI 0.53 to 0.88); high resistance, RD 0.56 (95% CI 0.17 to 0.95). For tunnel tests: low resistance, RD 0.74 (95% CI 0.61 to 0.87); moderate resistance, RD 0.50 (95% CI 0.40 to 0.60); high resistance, RD 0.39 (95% CI 0.24 to 0.54). For hut studies: low resistance, RD 0.56 (95% CI 0.43 to 0.68); moderate resistance, RD 0.39 (95% CI 0.16 to 0.61); high resistance, RD 0.35 (95% CI 0.27 to 0.43). However, with the exception of the moderate resistance category for tunnel tests, there was extremely high heterogeneity across studies in each resistance category (chi-squared test, p<0.00001, I 2 varied from 95% to 100%).
This meta-analysis found that ITNs are more effective than UTNs regardless of resistance. There appears to be a relationship between resistance and the RD for mosquito mortality in laboratory and field studies. However, the substantive heterogeneity in the studies' results and design may mask the true relationship between resistance and the RD, and the results need to be interpreted with caution. Our analysis suggests the potential for cumulative meta-analysis in entomological trials, but further field research in this area will require specialists in the field to work together to improve the quality of trials, and to standardise designs, assessment, and reporting of both resistance and entomological outcomes.
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Every year more than 200 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and more than 600,000 people, mostly children living in sub-Saharan Africa, die from this parasitic infection. Malaria is transmitted to people through the bites of night-flying mosquitoes. Soon after entering the human body, the parasite begins to replicate in red blood cells, bursting out every 2–3 days and infecting more red blood cells. The presence of the parasite in the bloodstream causes malaria's recurring flu-like symptoms, which need to be treated promptly with antimalarial drugs to prevent anemia (a reduction in red blood cell numbers) and life-threatening organ damage. Malaria can be prevented by using insecticides to control the mosquitoes (vectors) that spread the parasite and by sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) to avoid mosquito bites. High levels of ITN use reduce malaria-related deaths among children by about 20%. Consequently, the widespread provision of ITNs is a mainstay of global efforts to control malaria.
About 50% of African households now possess an ITN. However, the emergence of resistance to pyrethroid insecticides—the insecticide class recommended by the World Health Organization for use in ITNs—in some mosquitoes potentially threatens the efficacy of ITNs. Pyrethroids kill Anopheles mosquitoes (the main malaria vectors in sub-Saharan Africa) but also prevent mosquitoes entering houses (deterrence), disrupt feeding, and encourage mosquitoes to leave homes prematurely (“induced exophily”; Anopheles mosquitoes usually rest inside for a while after feeding). Worryingly, 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have already reported resistance to pyrethroids in Anopheles mosquitoes. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers assess the impact of pyrethroid resistance on the efficacy of ITNs against African anopheline mosquitoes in terms of entomological outcomes. A systematic review identifies all the research on a given topic using predefined criteria, meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies, and entomological outcomes are measures of mosquito behavior and survival.
The researchers identified 25 reports of laboratory and field studies of the impact of ITNs on African malaria vectors that measured the mosquitoes' resistance to pyrethroid insecticides at the time of the study. The laboratory studies used two assays to measure entomological outcomes. The cone test measured mosquito mortality (death), percent of mosquitoes knocked down (immobilized) after 60 minutes, and the time to knock down 50% or 95% of the mosquitoes after brief exposure to an ITN or untreated bed net (UTN). In the tunnel test, mosquitoes had to pass through a holed ITN or UTN to reach animal baits; counts of live and dead mosquitoes, and fed and unfed mosquitoes on both sides of the net measured deterrence, blood feeding, and mosquito mortality. In the field studies, volunteers slept under an ITN or UTN in an experimental hut. Subsequent counts of live and dead mosquitoes and fed and unfed mosquitoes inside the huts and in exit traps measured deterrence, blood feeding, mosquito mortality, and induced exophily. The researchers report that the measurement of insecticide resistance was inconsistent across the identified studies. Nevertheless, their analysis found that ITNs are more effective than UTNs in relation to mosquito mortality, regardless of resistance. There was a relationship between resistance and the risk difference for mosquito mortality in laboratory and field studies, but the substantive variation between studies means that the findings should be interpreted with caution.
These findings show that pyrethroid resistance clearly affects entomological outcomes in laboratory studies, and suggests that this pattern may also be observed in field trials. However, ITNs remained at least somewhat effective despite insecticide resistance in terms of personal protection. The researchers note that there was considerable variability (heterogeneity) among the results obtained in the field trials and suggest that poorly standardized methods and reporting might have masked the true relationship between insecticide resistance and ITN efficacy in these studies. Thus, although ITNs continue to have a substantive effect in many laboratory studies in the face of insecticide resistance, whether ITNs are likely to remain effective against insecticide-resistant mosquitoes in the real world cannot be definitively concluded. Malaria experts and vector biologists need to work together to improve the quality of field trials and to standardize the measurement of insecticide resistance and entomological outcomes, suggest the researchers. Such collaborations, they conclude, are essential to provide the data that policy makers need to plan malaria control strategies.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001619.
Information is available from the World Health Organization on a call for action to tackle the growing threat of insecticide resistance and to facilitate the development of innovative vector control tools and strategies (in English, French and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)