Scientists studying mosquito vectors, vectors of the infectious malaria disease, have discovered a malaria parasite in South East Asia which could also potentially infect mosquito species in Africa. This malaria parasite was found to have developed drug-resistance, leading to fears that the already hard-to-cure disease could spread and have debilitating effects across the world’s most vulnerable continent, potentially putting millions of lives at risk.
Malaria is transmitted and spread to humans by the bite of an infectious Anopheles female mosquitoes. The mosquito itself is usually infected by biting and taking a blood meal from an infected person. Upon taking a blood meal from a malaria infected individual, microscopic malaria parasites are ingested by the mosquito as it drinks the blood. When the mosquito then takes a blood meal from a non-infected person, the malaria parasites get transported into the blood of their new host and the malaria disease is thus transmitted.
The transmission studies were carried out by Dr Rick Fairhurst and his team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), in the US. During the study, scientists tried to infect a variety of different mosquito species with the drug-resistant parasites originally discovered in Cambodia. The laboratory tests revealed that the Plasmodium falciparum, a malaria parasite transmitted by the female mosquito, had developed immunity to drug treatments, mainly Artemisinin which is currently the primary drug used in the fight against malaria. Scientists discovered that this deadly parasite is also able to infect the Anopheles coluzzii mosquito which is the main cause of malaria transmission in Africa. This is a major problem as Plasmodium falciparum is currently the cause of 75% of malaria cases in Africa and almost every malarial fatality is due to this Plasmodium species.
Dr Fairhurst has stated: “We think that these findings will provide additional impetus for intensifying – and by intensifying, I mean grossly intensifying – the malaria elimination efforts in South East Asia” to reduce the potential spread of the disease to other continents. “The discovery suggests Africa — where malaria will cause an estimated 400,000 deaths in 2015 — is more at risk for drug-resistant malaria infections than previously thought. This could further compromise efforts to prevent and eliminate the disease.”
Scientists working with pharmaceutical companies have been battling against the emergence of drug resistance traits in different species, meaning that the effectiveness of drugs and treatments have been greatly reduced. They will be working hard to further understand the Plasmodium falciparum parasite – Anopheles coluzzii mosquito- human transmission vector and develop new effective treatment methods to combat the potentially fatal malaria disease. Dr Fairhurst has said: “We think that these parasites are going to be extremely difficult to stop the spread of, and that just can’t be good for any kind of containment effort.”