Background: Indoor residual insecticide spraying (IRS) and long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLINs) are commonly used together even though evidence that such combinations confer greater protection against malaria than either method alone is inconsistent.
Methods: A deterministic model of mosquito life cycle processes was adapted to allow parameterization with results from experimental hut trials of various combinations of untreated nets or LLINs (Olyset, PermaNet 2.0, Icon Life nets) with IRS (pirimiphos methyl, lambda cyhalothrin, DDT), in a setting where vector populations are dominated by Anopheles arabiensis, so that community level impact upon malaria transmission at high coverage could be predicted.
Results: Intact untreated nets alone provide equivalent personal protection to all three LLINs. Relative to IRS plus untreated nets, community level protection is slightly higher when Olyset or PermaNet 2.0 nets are added onto IRS with pirimiphos methyl or lambda cyhalothrin but not DDT, and when Icon Life nets supplement any of the IRS insecticides. Adding IRS onto any net modestly enhances communal protection when pirimiphos methyl is sprayed, while spraying lambda cyhalothrin enhances protection for untreated nets but not LLINs. Addition of DDT reduces communal protection when added to LLINs.
Conclusions: Where transmission is mediated primarily by An. arabiensis, adding IRS to high LLIN coverage provides only modest incremental benefit (e.g. when an organophosphate like pirimiphos methyl is used), but can be redundant (e.g. when a pyrethroid like lambda cyhalothin is used) or even regressive (e.g. when DDT is used for the IRS). Relative to IRS plus untreated nets, supplementing IRS with LLINs will only modestly improve community protection. Beyond the physical protection that intact nets provide, additional protection against transmission by An. arabiensis conferred by insecticides will be remarkably small, regardless of whether they are delivered as LLINs or IRS. The insecticidal action of LLINs and IRS probably already approaches their absolute limit of potential impact upon this persistent vector so personal protection of nets should be enhanced by improving the physical integrity and durability. Combining LLINs and non-pyrethroid IRS in residual transmission systems may nevertheless be justified as a means to manage insecticide resistance and prevent potential rebound of not only An. arabiensis, but also more potent, vulnerable and historically important species such as Anopheles gambiae and Anopheles funestus.