Fish that feed on mosquito larvae for preventing malaria transmission

What is the aim of this review?

Adult female Anopheles mosquitoes transmit the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. The aim of this Cochrane Review was to evaluate whether introducing fish that eat mosquito larvae and pupae (early life stages of mosquitoes) into water sources near where people live will decrease the adult Anopheles mosquito population and thus the number of people infected with Plasmodium parasites.

Key messages

We do not know if introducing fish that eat mosquito larvae and pupae has an impact on the number of people with malaria or on the adult Anopheles mosquito population.

What was studied in the review?

The review authors examined the available research that evaluated introducing fish that eat larvae ('larvivorous') to Anopheles mosquito larval habitats in areas where malaria was common. Fifteen small studies looked at the effects of larvivorous fish on Anopheles larvae and pupae in different larval habitats, including localized water bodies (such as wells, domestic water containers, fishponds, and pools; seven studies), riverbed pools below dams (two studies), rice field plots (four studies), and water canals (two studies). These studies were undertaken in Sri Lanka (two studies), India (three studies), Ethiopia (one study), Kenya (two studies), Sudan (one study), Grande Comore Island (one study), Korea (two studies), Indonesia (one study), and Tajikistan (two studies). This is an update of a 2013 Cochrane Review and includes some older unpublished studies from Tajikistan and a new trial from India.

What are the main results of the review?

In our main analysis, we found no studies that looked at the effects of larvivorous fish on adult Anopheles mosquito populations or on the number of people infected with Plasmodium parasites. In our analysis exploring the effect of fish introduction on the number of Anopheles larvae and pupae in water collections, these studies produced inconsistent results on immature mosquito density (12 studies, unpooled data, very low certainty evidence). Some studies that measured the number of water sources with Anopheles larvae and pupae reported a reduction in the number of sites with Anopheles larvae and pupae after introducing fish (five studies, unpooled data, low certainty evidence). None of the included studies examined the effects of introducing larvivorous fish on other native species present, but these studies were not designed to do this. All included studies were at high risk of bias.

Before much is invested in this intervention, we need better research to determine the effect of introducing larvivorous fish on the number of people infected with malaria, and on adult Anopheles populations. Researchers need to use robust controlled designs with an adequate number of sites. In addition, researchers should explore the potential harms from introducing these fish on native fish and other non-Anopheles species.

How up-to-date is this review?

The review authors searched for studies published up to 6 July 2017.

Authors' conclusions: 

We do not know whether introducing larvivorous fish reduces malaria transmission or the density of adult anopheline mosquito populations.

In research studies that examined the effects on immature anopheline stages of introducing fish to potential malaria vector larval habitats, high stocking levels of fish may reduce the density or presence of immature anopheline mosquitoes in the short term. We do not know whether this translates into impact on malaria transmission. Our interpretation of the current evidence is that countries should not invest in fish stocking as a stand alone or supplementary larval control measure in any malaria transmission areas outside the context of research using carefully controlled field studies or quasi-experimental designs. Such research should examine the effects on native fish and other non-target species.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Adult female Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. Some fish species eat mosquito larvae and pupae. In disease control policy documents, the World Health Organization (WHO) includes biological control of malaria vectors by stocking ponds, rivers, and water collections near where people live with larvivorous fish to reduce Plasmodium parasite transmission. In the past, the Global Fund has financed larvivorous fish programmes in some countries, and, with increasing efforts in eradication of malaria, policymakers may return to this option. Therefore, we assessed the evidence base for larvivorous fish programmes in malaria control.

Objectives: 

To evaluate whether introducing larvivorous fish to anopheline larval habitats impacts Plasmodium parasite transmission. We also sought to summarize studies that evaluated whether introducing larvivorous fish influences the density and presence of Anopheles larvae and pupae in water sources.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), published in the Cochrane Library; MEDLINE (PubMed); Embase (Ovid); CABS Abstracts; LILACS; and the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) up to 6 July 2017. We checked the reference lists of all studies identified by the search. We examined references listed in review articles and previously compiled bibliographies to look for eligible studies. Also we contacted researchers in the field and the authors of studies that met the inclusion criteria for additional information regarding potential studies for inclusion and ongoing studies. This is an update of a Cochrane Review published in 2013.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and non-RCTs, including controlled before-and-after studies, controlled time series, and controlled interrupted time series studies from malaria-endemic regions that introduced fish as a larvicide and reported on malaria in the community or the density of the adult anopheline population. In the absence of direct evidence of an effect on transmission, we performed a secondary analysis on studies that evaluated the effect of introducing larvivorous fish on the density or presence of immature anopheline mosquitoes (larvae and pupae forms) in water sources to determine whether this intervention has any potential that may justify further research in the control of malaria vectors.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently screened each article by title and abstract, and examined potentially relevant studies for inclusion using an eligibility form. At least two review authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias of included studies. If relevant data were unclear or were not reported, we contacted the study authors for clarification. We presented data in tables, and we summarized studies that evaluated the effects of introducing fish on anopheline immature density or presence, or both. We used the GRADE approach to summarize the certainty of the evidence. We also examined whether the included studies reported any possible adverse impact of introducing larvivorous fish on non-target native species.

Main results: 

We identified no studies that reported the effects of introducing larvivorous fish on the primary outcomes of this review: malaria infection in nearby communities, entomological inoculation rate, or on adult Anopheles density.

For the secondary analysis, we examined the effects of introducing larvivorous fish on the density and presence of anopheline larvae and pupae in community water sources, and found 15 small studies with a follow-up period between 22 days and five years. These studies were undertaken in Sri Lanka (two studies), India (three studies), Ethiopia (one study), Kenya (two studies), Sudan (one study), Grande Comore Island (one study), Korea (two studies), Indonesia (one study), and Tajikistan (two studies). These studies were conducted in a variety of settings, including localized water bodies (such as wells, domestic water containers, fishponds, and pools (seven studies); riverbed pools below dams (two studies)); rice field plots (five studies); and water canals (two studies). All included studies were at high risk of bias. The research was insufficient to determine whether larvivorous fish reduce the density of Anopheles larvae and pupae (12 studies, unpooled data, very low certainty evidence). Some studies with high stocking levels of fish seemed to arrest the increase in immature anopheline populations, or to reduce the number of immature anopheline mosquitoes, compared with controls. However, this finding was not consistent, and in studies that showed a decrease in immature anopheline populations, the effect was not always consistently sustained. In contrast, some studies reported larvivorous fish reduced the number of water sources with Anopheles larvae and pupae (five studies, unpooled data, low certainty evidence).

None of the included studies reported effects of larvivorous fish on local native fish populations or other species.

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