New research has shown the dye methylene blue kills malaria parasites at an unparalleled rate and is safe for human use.
Every year, malaria infects more than 200 million people and causes more than 430,000 deaths across the globe.
Methylene blue is a blue dye that is used in laboratories to distinguish dead cells from living cells.
Malaria parasites are growing increasingly resistant to existing drug treatments.
When they are effective, current medications still do not prevent the spread of parasites.
The parasites split in the patient’s red blood cells, forming male and female sex cells (gametocytes).
If another mosquito bites the patient, it sucks up the sex cells and these are fertilized in the mosquito’s stomach.
The offspring then find their way to the mosquito’s salivary glands, where the cycle starts again.
Malaria patients who were treated with a combination of the blue dye and artemisinin-based combination therapy were cured of the disease within two days.
The patients no longer transmitted the parasite if they are bitten again by a mosquito.
Malaria parasites are increasingly resistant to the artemisinin-based combination therapies that are currently used.
In addition, these medicines do very little to stop the spread of malaria, as the parasites remain in the blood for a long time, with the chance that other mosquitoes are infected if they feed on the patient.
However, adding the dye to the anti-malaria medicine ensured that patients no longer infected other mosquitoes, within as little as 48 hours.
Patients who were not given methylene blue were able to infect other mosquitoes for at least a week.
However, it turns the urine bright blue, which could stop people from using it, the researchers said.