This urban mosquito could derail progress against malaria in Africa : Goats and Soda The Anopheles stephensi is a well-known malaria mosquito, but still sort of new in Ethiopia, where it has caused dramatic, out-of-season outbreaks in ill-equipped cities, new research shows.

This urban mosquito threatens to derail the fight against malaria in Africa

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For decades, much of Africa has been locked in a fight against malaria, and now any small amount of hard-won progress is in danger of being erased. That's because of a species of mosquito that's playing by a different set of rules. NPR's Ari Daniel has more.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Early this year, a startling report came out of the city of Dire Dawa, a transportation hub in eastern Ethiopia.

SARAH ZOHDY: It was the first sort of urban malaria outbreak in Ethiopia during the dry season. And for context, dry season malaria in Ethiopia is not something that happens.

DANIEL: During the rainy season, sure. In rural areas, you bet. But this was unusual, says Sarah Zohdy, an entomologist with the CDC. Today in new research she and her colleagues are presenting at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, she says the reason for that surge in cases seems to fall squarely on the shoulders - or, rather, the proboscises - of a relatively new arrival in Ethiopia, the Anopheles stephensi mosquito.

ZOHDY: You know, it's not a new mosquito to science at all. It's actually probably one of the most well-studied malaria mosquitoes in the world.

DANIEL: But it had only ever been found in South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. Then in 2012, the East African nation of Djibouti registered a dramatic malaria outbreak. The country was nearing elimination of the disease when it confirmed the first detection on the continent of the new mosquito at one of its ports.

ZOHDY: Since that year, malaria cases have increased 36-fold in Djibouti in a country of less than a million people. So you can't really talk about elimination anymore in Djibouti.

DANIEL: The mosquito has now shown up in Somalia, Sudan, most recently in Nigeria, Ethiopia, of course, and possibly elsewhere. The research out today focuses on Dire Dawa and shows for the first time what scientists had suspected - that the new mosquito is behind these dramatic malaria outbreaks.

ZOHDY: This is a mosquito that has the potential to change malaria as we know it.

DANIEL: And that's because the insect has a few things that give it an advantage.

ZOHDY: With typical malaria mosquitoes, we tend to see them seasonally. This mosquito thrives year-round.

DANIEL: And it can thrive in urban environments because instead of relying on seasonal rains or puddles and ponds, it loves to breed in human-made water storage containers.

FITSUM GIRMA TADESSE: From clean to dirty, from small to bigger.

DANIEL: Fitsum Girma Tadesse is with the Armauer Hansen Research Institute in Addis Ababa and co-author of the new study.

TADESSE: So because of the rapidly expanding urban settings and poor infrastructure, people tend to store water in containers.

DANIEL: People in urban areas tend to have minimal exposure to malaria, making them more susceptible. And these mosquitoes are largely resistant to the insecticides traditionally used to treat bednets and at home.

TADESSE: So if we keep doing the same thing, we won't be successful in targeting this mosquito. We need to be innovative.

DANIEL: And practical, like simply getting people to put lids on water storage containers. Basically, in the ongoing fight against malaria, the next move is ours. Ari Daniel, NPR News.

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