Worries that the changing climate in the UK is
attractive to Stegomyiaalbopicta – the Asia Tiger Mosquito which
is linked to dengue fever and the West Nile Virus as well as other diseases,
have hit the UK newspaper headlines in June 2005. Meikle (2005) reports that a
mosquito watch is being formed, with UK residents being urged to contact local
health officials in order to identify the insect species responsible. The
Governments Health Protection Agency team based on Porton Down and the Chartered
Institute for Environmental Health have organised the initiative. Government
watchdogs fear that discarded car tyres, as well as the 5 million bought into
Britain for recycling, may act as a shelter for mosquito eggs, which can lie
dormant for very long periods.
A Pharmaceutical Industry Stitch-Up?
biting insects, consumers can theoretically make a conscious purchasing choice
between synthetic chemical repellents or naturals-based formulations but the
very nature of pharmaceutical industry advertising (straight into the medicinal
practitioners in-tray!) can mean that medical practitioners are often only
familiar with pharmaceutical synthetic repellents, and can be broadly unaware of
the possible beneficial use of many alternatives based on natural aromatic
materials. Further, the often-unfair denigration of phytomedicines (being unsafe
or of doubtful therapeutic efficiency or value) has lead to their poor image.
Critical analysis of investigations which has been carried out on the insect
repelling abilities of natural products often reveal that flawed experimental
design, or that teams of researchers are without the necessary
cross-disciplinary skills to properly undertake this research (Burfield 2005).
Further, since “young researchers are forced to follow fashionable...(&
probably) commercially viable, lines of work if they want to remain within the
bounds of academic respectability” (Anon 2005), finding positive benefits from
natural products research may not be their most advisable career move! Typical
of this tendency to avoid natural products above is the leading textbook on
Biocides (Knight & Cooke 2002) which defines biocides as ‘products which control
harmful organisms by chemical or biological means’, but nowhere in the book’s
379 pages is the mention of anything which is non-synthetic. Yet essential oils
are used as biocides the world over.
sometimes appear that keeping their clients alive might be of less importance to
the pharmaceutical industry than eliminating economic competition! An article
describing a study which looked at over 18,000 admittances to two Merseyside
hospitals was published in the British Medical Journal (Pirohamed et
al. 2004). The authors estimated that 10,000 patients die per year of
reactions to prescribed medicines (through Laurance 2004), but the study also
maintains - conveniently for the pharmaceutical industry - that adverse drug
reactions are down to the practitioners for not giving the appropriate advice
for the patient circumstance (!). Laurence also points out that one of the
authors of the study above also happens to be the chairman of the MHRPA.
Collusion in lobbying at Brussels between the pharmaceutical industry and the
UK’s MHRA (syn. MHPRA) in order to keep adverse information on drugs secret, has
been the subject of investigative journalism (Evans & Boseley 2004), and it will
perhaps come as no surprise perhaps for readers to learn that the MHRA is 100%
funded by pharmaceutical industries (Laurance 2004).
of recent press coverage about drug secrecy include Prigg (2004) who reports
that lung cancer sufferers are receiving sub-standard treatment due to
concealment of research findings by drug companies. And yet in spite of this bad
press over adverse reactions to conventional prescribed drugs, alleged and
unproven dangers from herbal medicines are so serious, apparently, that urgent
legislation is needed (Prof. Houghton of Kings College, London addressing the
Festival of Science 2004, through Prigg 2004). It is perhaps because of facts
like these above, that prompts Monbiot (2004) - reporting on “Corporate stooges
that nobble serious science” - to state that “… the scientific establishment is
rotten from top to bottom, riddled with vested interest…”.
lobbying of EU law-makers by pharmaceutical representatives on corporate expense
accounts, has seen the removal of many herbal and folk-medicine products from
the shelves of EU high street chemists and health shops, which are competitive
to pharmaceutical synthetic products. Kava-kava, St Johns Wort, and now Tea Tree
Oil (SCCP 2004) have all been recently attacked on safety grounds, and in 2004
the Canadian PMRA proposed the phase-out of Canadian registrations for
Citronella oil as personal insect repellents unless human safety data is
provided. Nor seemingly is there a truly independent body capable of high-level
investigation and the necessary overview required to fairly adjudicate on these
decisions, or to oversee “expert” committees who often rely on inadequate
literature searches, or conveniently forwarded data (…by whom, you might ask?)
that seems to be carefully selected to put the commodity in a bad light. This
situation leads to bad decisions and bad law-making, and leaves many citizens,
health workers and medical practitioners dazed, confused or completely mislead
about true safety risks attached to medicinal products.
There are some
signs that producers of natural products and associated stake-holders are now
fighting back, however. TheUK
Medicines Control Agency have agreed to re-examine the Kava issue in 2005 (Gruenwald
2004). The alleged health issues surrounding St. Johns Wort haven’t stopped 12%
of US CAM users (36% of the US population) using it regularly (Purcell 2005).The Australian Tea Tree Industries Association
(ATTIA) are fighting a vigorous campaign as I write this article, to challenge
the SCCP Opinion on Tea Tree Oil. Cropwatch is completing a full critique of
the SCCP Opinion, which will raise several questions about the composition of
expert committees, their ability to effectively communicate with the producing
industry and commodity end-users, and basic questions about influence, privilege
and competence to carry out the task.
of insect bites & stings include annoyance, inflammation and irritation
reactions to bite-related injected material, but rarely there are more severe
reactions such as large swellings and abdominal cramps or severe immune
reactions, which can include facial swelling, breathing difficulties and
anaphylactic shock. Biting insects (ticks, spiders, mosquitoes etc) can be the
vectors of more serious disease; flaviviruses are spread by ticks and mosquitoes
and are responsible for conditions such as West Nile Virus, Dengue Fever, Yellow
fever and many forms of encephalitis. Tick bites can spread the bacterium Borrelia
generally causes rash, flu-like symptoms and aching joints (‘Lyme disease’).
patient well”, in the sense of dissuading insect landings on exposed skin, is
therefore an important first-line strategy against contracting serious diseases
in certain locations. This is where natural aromatic materials can be of use.
Malaria & anti-Malarials.
to being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes, a life- shortening disease may
well be contracted. The underestimation of the global incidence of clinical
Plasmodium falciparum malaria has been the subject of a recent paper (Snow
et al. 2005), which maintains that the number of actual cases in Africa
is 50% up on WHO estimates in Africa, and up 200% for areas outside Africa. Snow
et al. further suggest that 515 million people have currently contracted
malaria out of an at-risk population of 2.2 billion people. Resistance of P.
falciparum to first-defence synthetic drugs chloroquine and
sulphadoxine-primethamine is rising, and the only effective drugs include
artemisinin from the herb Artemisia annua and synthetic derivatives
The drawbacks of reliance on single
active biocidals, such as artemisinin derivatives by pharmaceutical concerns,
and the advantages of using whole preparations from active herbal sources has
been reviewed by Burfield & Reekie (2005). Yarnell (2004) reports that a new
synthetic drug mimicking artemisinin, named OZ277 can be made cheaper, quicker
and more consistently than by growing & extracting the herb, and it is
reportedly being safety tested in the UK (Radford 2005). However as malaria
parasites rapidly develop drug resistance to single actives, this development
will not buy immunity for long. A longer term solution is needed, perhaps by
developing higher yielding and faster growing Artemisia spp. by (non-GM)
plant selection, to produce artemisinin and other naturally associated active
Synthetic Insecticides & Repellents
In 1955 the World Health Organisation
initiative was established (“The Global Malaria Eradication Problem”) - using
pesticides such as DDT, but rising resistance and toxicological problems forced
policy abandonment in 1969 - Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (Carson
1962) tolling its death knell. DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) is perhaps the
most popular synthetic now in insect repellency formulations, with piperonyl
butoxide widely employed in ‘knock-down’ insecticide aerosols.
Boseley (2004) describes a travelling
sector, which is reluctant to take conventional drugs; medical practitioners
need therefore to be able to suggest effective alternatives. Cedarwood,
citronella, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, turpentine and wintergreen oils have
traditional uses for their insect-repellent properties, which are formulated for
use as either topical preparations or as combustible products (e.g. incense
sticks). In a detailed article, Burfield & Reekie (2005) review the large body
of evidence for utilisation of essential oils as insect repellents, indicating
that essential oils such as catnip oil (Nepeta spp.) definitely point the
best way forward. Catnip oil contains nepetalactones, which have tested as being
ten times more effective than DEET, since they act an irritant to insect
antennae (see Burfield & Reekie 2005). Repellency testing regimes are largely
biased against natural products: 8-hour protection after a single application
suits higher molecular weight synthetics such as DEET, but as anyone regularly
wearing totally natural perfumes will tell you, essential oils & isolates will
have to be applied more frequently. Education is the key to prevent bites,
Burfield T. & Reekie S.-L. (2005) “Mosquitoes,
Malaria & Essential Oils” Internat J. Aromatherapy15, 30-41.
Connor S. (2005) “The Forgotten Killer” The
Independent Thurs 10th Mar 2005 pp1-2.
Evans R. & Boseley S. (2004) “The Drugs
Industry & its Watchdog: a Relationship too Close for Comfort?” The Guardian
Mon. Oct 4th 2004 p4.
Gruenwald J. (2005) “Kava Stakeholders Plan
Regulatory Review and Market Return” HerbalGram No 61, 69-70.
Knight D.J., Cooke M. (2002) The Biocides
Business: Regulation, Safety & Applications. Wiley-VCH
Laurance J. (2003) “Reactions to Common
Medicines Kill 10,000 each Year.” The Independent Fri 2 July 2004 p8.
Meiklie J. (2005) “Mosquito Watch to Beat
Exotic Diseases” The Guardian Thurs June 16 2005 p 9.
Monbiot G. (2004) “The Corporate Stooges than
Nobble Serious Science” The Guardian Tues Feb 24th 2004 p26.
Pirmohamed M., James S., Meakin S.,
Green C., Scott A.K., Walley T.J., Farrar K., Park B.K., Breckenridge A.M.
(2004) “Adverse drug reactions as cause of admission to hospital: prospective
analysis of 18,820 patients.” British Medical Journal3,
Prigg M. (2004) “Herbal Remedies ‘Put Thousands
in Danger’” Evening Standard Mon 6th Sept 2004.
Purcell K. (2005) “Survey Shows 36% of US
Adults Use CAM” Herbalgram No 61, p65-66.
Radford T. (2005) “New Drug Boosts World Fight
Against Malaria” The Guardian Thurs Aug 19th p12.