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Malaria: an unnecessary killer.

In 1977, the recovery of the last known case of smallpox wiped this once dreaded killer from the face of the earth. Another dreaded disease, poliomyelitis, may well meet the same fate by the year 2000, especially if an intensive, worldwide immunization campaign undertaken by the World Health Organization proves successful.

Another worldwide killer, malaria, has thus far defied all efforts to eliminate it. The development of powerful insecticides during and following World War II gave promise of eradicating malaria by killing off the mosquitoes that carried the parasite. At first, success seemed to be at hand when the insecticides began freeing vast areas of Africa and Asia from the anopheles mosquito. Nevertheless, the mosquitoes soon developed resistance to the insecticides, and their populations again sored. Medical science did achieve considerable success in preventing the disease in most travelers to, and some residents of, infested areas with the development of drugs, such as chloroquine. But then some forms of the malaria parasite itself became resistant to these drugs. Now, 40 years after the great eradication campaign for malaria began, there are some 275 million people infected with the disease, and 2 million are dying of it each year.

The traditional approach, vaccination, hasn't worked very well, either, because the malaria parasite's life cycle is so complex. However, the National Institutes of Health are now developing a unique kind of vaccine against malaria. Doctors will give the vaccine to persons already infected with malaria, instead of well people, so that they can produce antibodies to keep the malaria parasite from infecting individual mosquitoes!

Since the 1960s, annual malaria cases in the United States have increased fivefold to more than 1,000, about half of which are in returning travelers, the rest in immigrants from malarious areas. Fortunately, the United States has sufficiently prevented the spread of malaria by controlling its mosquito populations and by developing more effective drugs to prevent its occurrence among travelers to malarious areas.

Malaria can kill, and even when it does not, it is not a pleasant thing to have. Travelers should therefore heed the advice of health authorities and take proper precautions, including preventive drugs.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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