Effects of Viagra could curb the spread of malaria

Viagra could offer an unlikely treatment to help prevent the spread of malaria Credit: PA

Impotency drug Viagra could offer an unlikely treatment to help prevent the spread of malaria, a study has shown.

The drug, best known for treating erectile dysfunction, has a "stiffening" effect on the malaria parasite Plasmodium in red blood cells which reduces transmission of the disease from humans to mosquitoes, researchers found.

Scientists from the University of Paris Descartes discovered that cells containing the "stiffened" parasites became less flexible and more likely to be trapped by the spleen.

In this way, parasite-infected blood cells were removed from the body before they could be transmitted to blood-sucking mosquitoes.

The surprise discovery could lead to a new way of protecting populations from the infection that kills a million people each year, mostly children under the age of five.