Insect-borne diseases are a very serious problem throughout the world, mainly in tropical and equatorial regions. They cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people a year, and there are no effective vaccines or treatments for many of them.
But there is a novel, useful and very effective form of prevention – insecticidal paint.
The Spanish researcher Pilar Mateo, PhD in Chemistry from the University of Valencia, invented a paint with the ability to control and eliminate insects.
It consisted of the microcapsulation of insecticides with different action within wall paint.
Then the insecticides are released slowly, thus ensuring that the paint has an effect for more than two years.
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Against Chagas disease
In view of the potential, its possible use as a public health tool began to be investigated and Chagas disease was the first disease against which it was tried.
It affects the American continent, from northern Mexico to Patagonia. According to the WHO, it kills about 50,000 people a year and up to a quarter of the entire population of Latin America is at risk.
The disease is caused by a parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, but it is transmitted by the bite of some bed bugs called domestic triatomines.
These insects feed on blood at night and during the day they take refuge in nearby farms, corrals and trees, but also in the crevices of houses.
For this reason an insecticidal paint is ideal to control the disease.
Experiment in Bolivia
In the Gran Chaco region of Bolivia, an investigation was carried out using this paint.
1,626 houses were chosen for the study, of which more than 30% were found to be infested with triatomines.
Paint was applied to all houses and triatomines were searched again. 32 months after application, the bed bug was present in only 1.7% of the houses.
When applying paint, bed bugs die when they come into contact with the walls. The houses are free of the insect and, what is better, of the Chagas disease.
Of course, the paint is safe and does not pose any danger to human health.
Bed bugs become resistant
Traditionally, the measures to combat these bed bugs have been extensive spraying with pyrethroids, every three to four months.
But it was found that after years of use, triatomines began to develop resistance to these insecticides, making the above treatment largely useless.
However, the paint, by using various types of insecticides and gradually released, increases the effect and prevents the development of new resistances.
In the medium-long term, paint is also cheaper. And it is a technologically simpler solution: a house can be painted in all places, but it is not always feasible to spread insecticide over large areas of land.
Good for health … and the environment
Ecologically it is also more careful. Spraying large areas with insecticides contaminates the soil, crops and affects many other species of insects.
The painting, however, only focuses on the species that are present in the domestic environment, leaving all the others unaffected.
The application of this paint in houses, corrals and lower parts of trees, together with better hygiene and home care, could make Chagas disease a testimonial in Latin America.
Research with insecticidal paints has not stopped here: it is effective against many other disease-transmitting insects.
Experiments with other diseases continue
Malaria, dengue or the West Nile virus (the latter present in Spain) are just some of the diseases transmitted by insects that each year cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives.
Paint has been tested in different West African countries to deal with the malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, the Anopheles mosquitoes.
The paint caused a mortality of more than 90% in mosquitoes in short periods of time, which is why it has been considered an easy and fast way to control localized epidemics.
Just painting doors and windows could save lives.
The potential of this technology is even broader. For example, colorless sprays can be used to spray clothing or tents with them.
In this way, people who have to enter areas with dangerous insects will be more protected, since the effect is longer than with traditional insecticide spray.
However, there are still many impediments for paint and other preventive treatments to reach those who need it. Rural communities continue to depend on external collaboration to finance these initiatives.
In the same way that today they need help to obtain food, drinking water and medicine, it would be necessary to send them the paint.
Challenges remain to eradicate these diseases, but technology is helping to bring the horizon closer.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.