LONDON Suppositories derived from sweet wormwood kill the deadliest malaria parasites quickly and offer a stop-gap treatment for people in remote areas until they can reach a hospital, researchers said on Friday.
Their study found that a single dose of any artemisinin derivative given rectally was better at clearing parasites after 24 hours than a conventional injection of the older drug quinine for people with severe malaria.
The researchers published their findings in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.
"Early effective treatment with artemisinin-based suppositories has potential as a lifesaving intervention, particularly at the periphery of the healthcare system," World Health Organisation researcher Melba Gomes and colleagues wrote.
Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. The disease kills a child every 30 seconds, mainly African children under the age of 5, according to the World Health Organisation.
It has become resistant to some drugs and work on a vaccine has been slow. One effective treatment is Novartis AG's Coartem, a pill which consists of the older drug lumefantrine plus an artemisinin derivative.
But people severely ill with malaria unable to swallow a pill often need a quinine injection or suppository made with artemisinin, Gomes said in a telephone interview.
Artemisinin is derived from sweet wormwood and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
"When you can take a drug by mouth, you don't have severe malaria," said Gomes, who led the study.
The researchers analyzed 15 studies that included more than 1,000 people to compare the artemisinin-based suppositories to quinine injections for people infected with the deadliest malaria parasite, plasmodium falciparum.
They found not only was it better than quinine but that also a single, potent dose was five times more likely to reduce the number of parasites by over 90 percent than multiple, weaker doses.
Suppositories are much safer and easier to administer than injections, which means people without healthcare training could give the treatments in remote areas, the researchers said.
"The rate of killing parasites is faster," Gomes said. "If you get enough drug at once you can get rid of most of the parasites within 24 hours."
(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Janet Lawrence)