Volume 11, Issue 66 August 15, 2014
Can antibiotics really stop malaria?
Every now and then, I come across a drug treatment that makes sense. Take for instance an amazing story about a novel way to treat malaria.

Malaria, as you may know, kills at least a million people every year. While it does not directly affect us in America, treatments or prevention of this ravaging disease are of great importance for humanity. Half of all humans live in areas threatened by the malaria parasite.

A research team has discovered that it just might be possible to use the malaria mosquito as a vaccine. The parasite goes through several stages in the host to cause disease. One of those steps is development in the host's liver. Though malaria is not a bacterium, this particular step of its cycle can be stopped with certain antibacterials. Mice infected with malaria via mosquitoes were given antibiotics for three days and did not develop the disease. That's big news!

Malaria enters the host as a form called sporozoites. In the liver, they massively reproduce to a form called merozoites. These go on to infect red blood cells. After a few days, the infected red cells lyse (break apart), causing massive symptoms. The antibiotics prevented merozoites from infecting the red cells, preventing the parasite from maturing. And the best news is that after waiting 40 days, four months, and six months, the researchers reinfected the animals. And they had 100% protection. None developed disease. The antibiotics used are cheap azithromycin and clindamycin.

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This is more than an interesting report. It provides hope that a great scourge of humanity might be easily, effectively, and cheaply prevented through a sort of biological vaccine. There's just no way to prevent all mosquito bites in endemic areas. But use of antibiotics at the start of the rainy season could induce a long-term immunity, enabling the host to develop resistance to the arrested and non-illness causing form of the parasite.

Natural immunity to malaria does not come easily. Sickle cell disease, as terrible as it is, enables the host to gain some resistance. The genetic disease does this by preventing the parasite from entering the red cells. If you are traveling to a malaria endemic country, keep this new information in mind. It is one time taking an antibiotic as a preventive might be worth considering.

There have been calls by some misguided people to resume DDT spraying to kill mosquitoes in the tropics. That will only go so far, for a finite time, and at a potentially catastrophic cost to the environment. Targeted antibiotics make far better sense.


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