According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), everyday 3,000 people die from malaria - mostly children. So what are we to make of the report from Penn State University that malaria parasites evolving in the laboratory are becoming more virulent?
The researchers report that it is possible that more-virulent strains of malaria might evolve if a malaria vaccine is widely used. The research, published in journal PLoS Biology, showed that more-virulent malaria parasites evolved in response to vaccination, but the exact mechanism for this finding is still unknown. However, it was not due to changes in the part of the parasite targeted by the vaccine, so there seems to be something even more complex happening.
To date, there is no malaria vaccine approved for widespread use as the vaccines are difficult to develop, especially as hundreds of different malaria strains exist together in areas of high disease prevalence. The implications of these findings are serious. It shows, yet again, that the harder we try to fight nature, the harder it comes straight back at us. The implications are made even more worrying when combined with the impact of climate change and the spread of the disease vector, mosquitoes.
Some Malaria Facts
- In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria accounts for one in five of all childhood deaths. Women are especially vulnerable during pregnancy. They are more likely to die from the disease, suffer miscarriages or give birth to premature, low-weight babies.
- Malaria can rapidly overwhelm a young child causing high fever, convulsions and breathing difficulties. With the onset of cerebral malaria - an acute form of the disease - the child lapses into a coma and may die within 24 hours.
- The high incidence of malaria cases - over 275 million a year globally - can impose a huge economic burden on both families and governments through lost productivity, missed education and high health care costs.