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Mosquito-borne diseases could be prevented by skin cream

Research funded by BBSRC and Wellcome has demonstrated that skin cream used to treat warts and skin cancer could help protect people against viral diseases such as Zika and dengue, according to new research from the University of Leeds.

Their findings have identified a new way we might prevent infection from a wide variety of dangerous viruses.

The climate emergency, coupled with an increasingly inter-connected world, has led to an upsurge in potentially deadly mosquito-borne illnesses for which no effective treatments currently exist.

The cream, called imiquimod or Aldara, is commonly used to treat genital warts and some forms of skin cancer. The researchers caution that further testing is needed before recommendations can be made for people to start using this cream on mosquito bites.

Their research is published today in Science Translational Medicine.

Lead author Dr Clive McKimmie, from the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine, said: “This study shows that a clinically approved, widely used skin cream has the potential to be repurposed as a valuable protector against insect-borne diseases.

“What is especially encouraging about our results is that the cream was effective against a number of distinct viruses, without needing to be targeted to one particular virus.

“If this strategy can be developed into a treatment option then we might be able to use it to tackle a wide range of new emerging diseases that we have not yet encountered.

“Mosquitos are expanding their range across the world as the planet gets hotter due to the climate emergency, so the health impact of mosquito-borne diseases is likely to increase in future.”

The paper, titled ‘Pan-viral protection against arboviruses by activating skin macrophages at the inoculation site’ is published in Science Translational Medicine and will be available online here:

Full news release here:

Images, crediting University of Leeds, are available here:  

Image captions: Image of mice brains infected with a mosquito-borne virus (Semliki Forest virus). Without treatment and with skin cream treatment. Pink colour shows the extent of infection with the virus.

Tags: Mosquitos zika dengue University of Leeds