“When used in combination with other interventions, ivermectin could prevent disease transmission in communities and help to reach malaria elimination,” said Dr Brian Foy, professor at Colorado State University in America and author of the study. “Nets can only go so far in preventing malaria, as mosquitoes don’t only bite at night.
“This approach can help circumvent this issue, as a drug is in your system no matter where you are,” he added.
Ivermectin is already distributed on a mass scale across much of Africa to control neglected tropical diseases such as elephantiasis – which causes severe and often irreversible swelling.
The randomised trial involved 2,700 people, including 570 children, in eight villages in West Africa. A larger trial, which will test giving people larger doses of ivermectin once a month, is due to begin later this year. Dr Foy says more research is also required to confirm the drug’s safety and test distribution methods.
But he added that it was significant that there was a 20 per cent reduction in cases of malaria among children, as their weaker immune systems mean this group are one of the most vulnerable to the disease.