Two articles on the BBC website grabbed my attention this week. The first is the bad news (I like to get the worst out of the way first if I can!). This article reported on a study that showed UK cities are becoming more mosquito friendly habitats, and that a larger number of the mosquitoes that carry malaria are living here.
Can I repeat that? There are mosquitoes that could carry and transmit malaria living in UK cities.
Got that? These mosquitoes are currently disease-free, but their habitats are expanding (warm and wet being the dominant factors). A good place for breeding is the water butt, which is fed by the rainwater and detritus from the roof and gutters, and is situated near the house and thus humans.
OK, so stop fretting: the scientists do emphasise that there have been no cases of secondary malaria in the UK since the 1950s (that is, malaria passed from one person to another: most malaria here is brought in by visitors from abroad and is quickly dealt with). However, it is worth pondering the development of global warming and the changes in our habits that might expand the mosquitoes’ infection area.
On the positive side, the BBC reported the very next day that there are a group of children in Tanzania who are naturally immune to malaria. What a bonus for them! Scientists are studying them in the hope of creating a vaccine that will work for everyone. The children produce an antibody that attacks the malaria-causing parasite. If that can be replicated, and passed on to others, it could be the foundation for a powerful vaccine and ultimately the eradication of malaria.
Did you get that? The eradication of malaria! Like smallpox and polio, a disease that could be wiped off this planet. A disease that currently kills one person every minute.
The mosquito has been declared the planet’s most deadly animal (?) in that it kills more humans than any other – more than hippos, buffaloes, lions and crocodiles … and I wouldn’t want to cross any of them on a bad day. Millions of pounds are spent each year on nets and other preventative measures, as well as medication to get rid of malarial infections. The parasite has developed over the years, thwarting the immunity we have received from various drugs, such as chloroquine and proguanil. No doubt it can (and will) morph again to combat our latest efforts. Drugs take time to develop and test, and high hopes have been dashed before, so we mustn’t get too expectant on this latest development. Then again, hope is wonderful, and anything that can defeat this killer disease has to be encouraged.
Today I stopped taking my anti-malarials, four weeks after returning from Zambia. How marvellous if the daily dosage of tablets could cease for all travellers and this killer disease be eliminated as a concern for inhabitants of tropical areas.
Is it fair to dream?
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