Researchers designed a new malaria drug that can both stop the disease from spreading, and fight off drug-resistant strains of the parasite that accounts for 500,000 deaths every year.
The new treatment was successful in removing the parasite from mice in laboratory conditions, while it also prevented other mice from becoming infected. The finding was welcomed by aid workers who currently battle malaria amid concerns that the parasite strains may mutate so much that they would become virtually immune to any existing treatments.
Current drugs help patients get better, but the strains in their blood can easily reach mosquitoes which can later infect other people, researchers explained. But scientists worldwide are increasingly concerned about the parasite building up resistance to front-line medications. And they also hope that a new drug may also prevent the disease from spreading rather than just treat it.
So, the new treatment may just do that if the research team obtains similar results in people. Merck & Co. is currently developing the drug for clinical trials which are slated to start within one year.
As of 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there were 200 million of malaria patients and more than 580,000 deaths in Africa alone. Most patients were children, pregnant women or people with a weak immune system.
But if malaria strains continue to mutate, drug resistance may tragically increase mortality among patients. Aid workers reported that strains resistant to Artemisinin, the front-line drug in battling malaria, are already on the loose at the Burma-India border.
Researchers estimate that the strains could spread across entire India and hit Bangladesh by 2018. So, finding a new cure is a race against the clock.
“The need for new antimalarial drugs is more urgent than every before, with emerging strains of the parasite now showing resistance against the best available drugs,”
noted Dr Michael Chew from the group that funded the new research.
Dr. Chew explained that if the worst case scenario becomes reality – the drug-resistant malaria strains reach Africa – we will witness “a disaster of global proportions.” On the Black Continent, people are more prone to get the disease due to poverty and lack of sanitation. Plus, there’s almost no health system infrastructure in place.
People usually get malaria from a disease-carrying mosquito bite. The parasite attacks first the liver then it spreads through blood into the entire body. Main symptoms include fever with chills, headache and vomiting. If the patient is bitten by another mosquito, they can infect the insect which can pass it down to other people.
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