12:09pm

Mon July 18, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Philippines: Geckos Are A No-Go For AIDS

Traditional forms of medicine used in China and elsewhere in Asia make use of some wild ingredients — literally — from rhino horn to pangolin scales.

But geckos? Yep, in some places even those lizards, thrust into many Americans' consciousness by omnipresent insurance ads, are used as remedies.

The description of a scientific paper published back in 1998 by the journal Zhong Yao Cai, or the Journal of Chinese Medicinal Materials, says the heads and feet of geckos "have obvious pharmacological action without any toxic or side effects...." The article is in Chinese, though, which is beyond Shots.

But health officials in the Philippines are now warning people not to rely on geckos as medical treatments for some serious conditions, including infection with HIV. "The folkloric practice of using geckos (or "tuko") as cure for AIDS and asthma persists to this day and is of serious concern...." the Philippines Department of Health said in a statement. "There is no basis that this practice cures ailments like AIDS or brings relief from symptoms of asthma. Thus, we do not recommend it as cure for any ailment."

Folk healers in the country sometimes recommend "pulverized, fried geckos" sprinkled over water as a remedy for asthma sufferers, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Tokay Gecko, also called "tuko" in the Philippines, is the principal target of hunters. Besides telling people not to use the lizards for medicine, the Philippines government is reminding its citizens not to trap and sell them, because it's against the law.

The demand for geckos as traditional medicine ingredients has reportedly led to "rampant collection and trade," the government has said. And that's putting the gecko population under pressure. In recent years, Chinese demand for sea cucumbers harvested in the Philippines has pushed some species toward extinction.

Geckos can be pretty nasty and give quite a bite. A gecko hunter in Indonesia describes his own battles with the geckos in the Al Jazeera video below.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.