Mosquito larval source management for controlling malaria

What is larval source management and how might it work?

Malaria is an infectious disease transmitted from person to person by mosquitoes, and the main interventions insecticide treated bed-nets and indoor residual spraying reduce malaria infection by targeting adult mosquitoes. Larval source management (LSM) also aims to reduce malaria but instead targets immature mosquitoes, which are found in standing water, before they develop into flying adults. This is done by permanently removing standing water, for example by draining or filling land; making temporary changes to mosquito habitats to disrupt breeding, for example by clearing drains to make the water flow; or by adding chemicals, biological larvicides, or natural predators to standing water to kill larvae.

What does the research show?

We examined all the published and unpublished research up to 24 October 2012, and included 13 studies in this review.

Where larval habitats are not too extensive and a sufficient proportion of these habitats can be targeted, LSM probably reduces the number of people that will develop malaria (moderate quality evidence), and probably reduces the proportion of the population infected with the malaria parasite at any one time (moderate quality evidence).

LSM was shown to be effective in Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, Greece, Kenya, and Tanzania, where interventions included adding larvicide to abandoned mine pits, streams, irrigation ditches and rice paddies where mosquitos breed, and building dams, flushing streams, and removing water containers from around people’s homes.

In one study from The Gambia where mosquitos were breeding in large swamps and rice paddies, spraying swamps with larvicide using ground teams did not show any benefit.

Authors' conclusions: 

In Africa and Asia, LSM is another policy option, alongside LLINs and IRS, for reducing malaria morbidity in both urban and rural areas where a sufficient proportion of larval habitats can be targeted. Further research is needed to evaluate whether LSM is appropriate or feasible in parts of rural Africa where larval habitats are more extensive.

Read the full abstract...

Malaria is an important cause of illness and death in people living in many parts of the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa. Long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS) reduce malaria transmission by targeting the adult mosquito vector and are key components of malaria control programmes. However, mosquito numbers may also be reduced by larval source management (LSM), which targets mosquito larvae as they mature in aquatic habitats. This is conducted by permanently or temporarily reducing the availability of larval habitats (habitat modification and habitat manipulation), or by adding substances to standing water that either kill or inhibit the development of larvae (larviciding).


To evaluate the effectiveness of mosquito LSM for preventing malaria.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register; Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); MEDLINE; EMBASE; CABS Abstracts; and LILACS up to 24 October 2012. We handsearched the Tropical Diseases Bulletin from 1900 to 2010, the archives of the World Health Organization (up to 11 February 2011), and the literature database of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board (up to 2 March 2011). We also contacted colleagues in the field for relevant articles.

Selection criteria: 

We included cluster randomized controlled trials (cluster-RCTs), controlled before-and-after trials with at least one year of baseline data, and randomized cross-over trials that compared LSM with no LSM for malaria control. We excluded trials that evaluated biological control of anopheline mosquitoes with larvivorous fish.

Data collection and analysis: 

At least two authors assessed each trial for eligibility. We extracted data and at least two authors independently determined the risk of bias in the included studies. We resolved all disagreements through discussion with a third author. We analyzed the data using Review Manager 5 software.

Main results: 

We included 13 studies; four cluster-RCTs, eight controlled before-and-after trials, and one randomized cross-over trial. The included studies evaluated habitat modification (one study), habitat modification with larviciding (two studies), habitat manipulation (one study), habitat manipulation plus larviciding (two studies), or larviciding alone (seven studies) in a wide variety of habitats and countries.

Malaria incidence

In two cluster-RCTs undertaken in Sri Lanka, larviciding of abandoned mines, streams, irrigation ditches, and rice paddies reduced malaria incidence by around three-quarters compared to the control (RR 0.26, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.31, 20,124 participants, two trials, moderate quality evidence). In three controlled before-and-after trials in urban and rural India and rural Kenya, results were inconsistent (98,233 participants, three trials, very low quality evidence). In one trial in urban India, the removal of domestic water containers together with weekly larviciding of canals and stagnant pools reduced malaria incidence by three quarters. In one trial in rural India and one trial in rural Kenya, malaria incidence was higher at baseline in intervention areas than in controls. However dam construction in India, and larviciding of streams and swamps in Kenya, reduced malaria incidence to levels similar to the control areas. In one additional randomized cross-over trial in the flood plains of the Gambia River, where larval habitats were extensive and ill-defined, larviciding by ground teams did not result in a statistically significant reduction in malaria incidence (2039 participants, one trial).

Parasite prevalence

In one cluster-RCT from Sri Lanka, larviciding reduced parasite prevalence by almost 90% (RR 0.11, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.22, 2963 participants, one trial, moderate quality evidence). In five controlled before-and-after trials in Greece, India, the Philippines, and Tanzania, LSM resulted in an average reduction in parasite prevalence of around two-thirds (RR 0.32, 95% CI 0.19 to 0.55, 8041 participants, five trials, moderate quality evidence). The interventions in these five trials included dam construction to reduce larval habitats, flushing of streams, removal of domestic water containers, and larviciding. In the randomized cross-over trial in the flood plains of the Gambia River, larviciding by ground teams did not significantly reduce parasite prevalence (2039 participants, one trial).