Stories tagged malaria

May
14
2010

Some of you may have said to yourselves over the years, “Yeah, yeah. Climate change. Hug a tree. Save the polar bears and manatees. Whatever. I’m just SO over the sexy megafauna, appeal-to-emotion approach.” Well, have I got a story for you!

In April, the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Jonathan Patz, who holds a medical doctorate and a masters degree in public health, gave a riveting lecture at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment on how climate change affects public health. And pretty much everybody wants to live long and prosper, so I’m guessing you care about your health just as much as I do and want to know more…

Well, basically, there is increasing scientific evidence that climate change is hazardous to your health.

The end.

Just kidding!

The logic is that basic changes in the Earth’s physical environment affect public health. Take one example, as warmer climates trigger species migration, vector-borne diseases like malaria and Lyme disease will leave traditional zones to infest new land areas. That’s good news for some people, but bad news for others.

Yuck!: Polar bears might make better poster-children for climate change afterall
Yuck!: Polar bears might make better poster-children for climate change afterallCourtesy Scott Bauer, USDA

Let’s break that idea down: global climate change suggests that some regions will experience warmer annual temperatures. Mosquitoes (that carry malaria) and ticks (bringers of Lyme disease) are cold-blooded, which means they don’t make their own heat and have to “steal” heat from their surroundings. Regions with warmer annual temperatures are attractive real estate for cold-blooded critters. As climate change increases annual temperatures, tick and mosquito habitat ranges will shift. Like many people, mosquitoes and ticks will move into warmer, better neighborhoods. Unfortunately for their new neighbors, the baggage of these insects causes fever, vomiting, and diarrhea (malaria) or rash, joint pain, and numbness (Lyme disease). Yikes!

Other symptoms of climate change (i.e. extreme weather and rising sea levels) have the potential to increase the severity of diseases like heat stress, respiratory diseases like asthma, cholera, malnutrition, diarrhea, toxic red tides, and mental illness (due to forced migration and overcrowding).

Not to be a downer, Patz pointed out that tackling global climate change might be the greatest public health improvement opportunity of our time in terms of number of lives saved, hospital admissions avoided, and ultimately health care cost decreases (which everyone needs!).

Is there any other good news?? Uh, besides less frostbite? No, seriously: on the bright side, warmer weather should increase the amount of physical activity of the average person (not many of us like to run in the dead of winter, you know), and, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin put it, "…an increase of two or three degrees wouldn't be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” So, yeah, there is some good news, but the real question is: does it outweigh the bad stuff?

Feb
16
2010

What's wrong with Tut?: CT scans and DNA tests conducted over the past two years have uncovered several major problems that contributed to King Tut's death: malaria, broken leg, a club foot and restricted blood flow to Tut's left foot.
What's wrong with Tut?: CT scans and DNA tests conducted over the past two years have uncovered several major problems that contributed to King Tut's death: malaria, broken leg, a club foot and restricted blood flow to Tut's left foot.Courtesy Sanandreas
Being a boy king of Egypt had it’s share of downs along with all the gold and glitter.

CT scans and DNA testing conducted on the mummy to King Tutankhamun (King Tut for short) show that the boy pharaoh was suffering from several medical problems at the time of his death at age 19.

The contemporary medical testing shows that Tut had a cleft palate and a club foot and was suffering from malaria and a broken leg at the time that he died some 3,300 years ago. The results were announced today and will be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Medical experts have also been able to untangle the web of intrigue as to who Tut’s parents were, sort of. DNA shows that Tut is the son of the previous pharaoh, Akhenaten, and his likely mother is an unidentified sister of Akhenaten. In total, 16 mummies underwent CT scanning to get a better picture of who Tut was and what the times were like when he was alive.

The 21st Century testing was able to answer more than half of Tut’s paternity questions by identifying his father. And while we know that Akhenaten’s sister was Tut’s mother, her mummified remains confirm Tut’s DNA, her identity is still unknown. It was not uncommon in New Kingdom Egypt for pharaohs to marry to their sisters.

The findings put to bed once and for all long-held speculation that Tut was murdered. That idea was fueled by a hole in his skull, but a 2005 scan of Tut’s mummy showed that hole was made as part of the mummification process.

The majesty that we associated with Tut based on the ornate furnishings found in his burial chamber may be a far cry from what life was like for the finals days of the boy king. The medical testing shows that Tut was a sickly teen who was done in by complications from the broken leg and malaria in his brain.

On top of that, Tut had a club foot that likely required him to use a cane. In fact, 130 canes or walking sticks have been found among his burial goods, with some of the canes showing wear and tear. Tut also suffered from Kohler's disease in which lack of blood flow was slowly destroying the bones of his left foot.

Another theory cleared up through the medical tests: Tut did not suffer from any medical conditions that would have given him female body characteristics or misshapen bones.

Want to learn more? Here’s a Q&A with Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, about the new Tut findings.

And here is even more in-depth coverage from National Geographic.

Bummed out that Tut was so sickly and need a pick-me-up? Do you really need a shot of Steve Martin's "King Tut" song right now? Enjoy (with a special guest appearance by Fonzie [aka Henry Winkler]). Maybe Steve needs to add a new verse to include all this new medical information.

Feb
12
2010

Do you remember last year's story about the laser-filled future of mosquito killing? Some folks were working on an automatic mosquito-killing device that could identify a mosquito flying dozens of feet away, and then blast it to death with a little laser.

Ah, it was like The World of Tomorrow, but yesterday. And so... I guess that means that The World of Tomorrow is now today! Let's check where our mosquito-zapper is at...

Here it is! Check out that link for slow-motion video of mosquitoes being fried to crisps in mid-air. It's a little pathetic, and a little hilarious. (Patharious.)

And here's the site for the company working on it.

Jun
29
2009

I've recently heard about someone living in MN who went to back to Africa to visit family and he came back with a case of malaria. This is exactly the situation advisors to the exhibition Disease Detectives highlighted as a growing problem. Did you know that if you've developed immunity to malaria you lose that immunity when you move away from a region where malaria is endemic?

Exciting news on the diagnostic front comes from Glasgow University where scientists have developed a new test to quickly diagnose malaria. Currently to diagnose malaria researchers look at a patients sample of blood under a microscope and look for signs of the parasite. You need to be highly trained to be good at diagnosing this way. The new procedure is not only faster and more accurate but it can tell if the parasite is resistant to the first line of drug treatment. Go to this link for an article from the university and this link for a BBC video about the new diagnostic technique. In Disease Detectives we highlighted another new diagnostic technique which can easily be used away from expensive labs called a rapid diagnostic test which uses a "dipstick" method to indicate if certain proteins from the parasite is in a patient's blood. We've highlighted two professionals working on the test on the Disease Detective's website. Find out information about Norman Moore and Sara Hallowell who both work on this rapid diagnostic test.

I wonder what is the best way to get these tests to the people who most need them?

Most insecticides work by killing bugs before they get the chance to grow and reproduce, but a new research study suggests that when it comes to mosquitos and malaria, this strategy might be part of the problem. Killing young mosquitoes increases the selective pressure on the population to develop resistance to pesticides. This means that any given pesticide will stop working shortly after it is introduced, making it harder to fight the disease, which is caused by parasites and spread by mosquitoes. By killing the mosquitoes when they are older, but before they are old enough to spread Malaria, scientists believe they can prolong the effectiveness of pesticides and save lives. This article explains more about their ideas. Learn more about malaria and share your thoughts on Science Buzz.

Mar
16
2009

His eyes and nipples are killing mosquitoes: But his robo brain is targeted on humans alone.
His eyes and nipples are killing mosquitoes: But his robo brain is targeted on humans alone.Courtesy TheAlieness GiselaGiardino23
If you’re like me, y’all probably woke up this morning thinking, “I wonder if the end of the world will come with a zombie apocalypse, or a laser-armed, ‘screw you dad, you’re not the boss of me’-style robot rebellion?” It’s a valid question, and the answer could be a major factor in how your week plays out. (Happy Monday, by the way. Way to go on another weekend.)

But, you know what? Zombie apocalypse or robot uprising… who says it can’t be both? Check out The Wall Street journal—it seems to me that well-intended malaria research is making each option a likely future (i.e. inevitable).

All sorts of scientists are getting terribly clever ideas about eliminating mosquitoes (and therefore malaria) these days. The Gates Foundation (among other organizations) has mosquitoes on the brain, and there plenty of money out there for anti-malaria research. And, in the tradition of Bill Gates himself, some of the projects are looking pretty smart, and kind of crazy.

Because the WSJ article only mentions it in passing, I’ll get the zombie apocalypse thing out of the way now. One of the many projects being funded by the Gates Foundation is the brainchild of a Japanese scientist who hopes to turn mosquitoes into “flying syringes.” That horrifying mental image aside, the idea is that mosquitoes could be engineered to deliver vaccinations to their hosts with every bite. It’s a nice idea… but come on! Hasn’t he ever played a video game? Let’s get real here. According to well-accepted science fiction, that sort of project always results in a zombie plague. Zombies, of course, can’t get measles, so the project would technically by a success, but I’m not prepared to get behind that one quite yet.

Now the robot/laser thing… that’s where the thrust of the article is. Apparently there are some astrophysicists out there with time in their hands, and they’re dragging the concept of the flyswatter kicking and screaming into this new century. The flyswatter of the future is similar in concept to the flyswatter of the past (also known as “the flyswatter”), in that they both are useful for killing flying insects. They differ in that the flyswatter of the past is a cheap, hand-operated device, capable of both killing a bug a couple feet away from you, as well as occupying the attention of a 7-year-old for an entire summer afternoon. The flyswatter of the future, on the other hand, is a high-power laser-based, computer-operated weapon, capable of both eliminating millions of mosquitoes within a hundred feet of the device, as well as ending civilization as we know it.

The device is a lot like the ill-fated “Star Wars” laser-based missile defense system tossed around in the 80s. And that makes sense, because the whole thing was thought up by one of the brains behind the “Star Wars” system.

The mosquito zapper works by having a computer visually recognize mosquitoes from a distance, and then instantly blasting them with a laser beam. The laser isn’t powerful enough to hurt a human, but it can turn a mosquito into a smoking husk in a fraction of a second. The computer can even tell the difference between male and female mosquitoes based on their wing beats. It’s an important distinction, because it’s only female mosquitoes that drink blood and transfer disease (whereas males just drink plant nectar).

The prototype that Star Wars-guy’s team is working on is made of parts they were able to find on ebay—a 35mm camera zoom lens, a Dell PC, a few flashlights, a little box of mirrors and lasers, and a 10-gallon aquarium full of mosquitoes. The system was able to bullseye the bugs from about 100 feet away.

Aside from the so far overlooked ethical issue of putting a laser in the hands of a robot (figuratively), the project still has a long ways to go in its development. It currently relies on a reflective screen behind the mosquito tank (the flashlights create a silhouette of each mosquito on the screen, and it’s this figure that the computer recognizes), and, to my knowledge, the areas of the planet affected by malaria are somewhat larger than a 10-gallon aquarium. It still doesn’t quite match up to the low-tech reliability of a mosquito net, either.

The scientists envision a final version of the machine being used to create an invisible wall around a village to keep out mosquitoes, or being mounted on a drone aircraft, which could bring death from above for billions of the bugs. And, naturally, it could shoot hot little lasers at the tops of our heads. (Which I would hate.)

Aside from making the device harmless to humans, the researchers are also figuring out how to ensure that the mosquito death ray doesn’t automatically destroy everything that is small and flies. We don’t want to kill butterflies, for instance, because they’re so pretty. And we don’t want to kill bees, because we need them to pollinate crops. And to make honey. And if the robots do go all Skynet on us, bees and butterflies are probably where they’d start.

Pretty neat stuff, anyhow, and not generally what you’d think of when it comes to anti-malaria research.

Feb
05
2009


From left to right, top to bottom: "Talk to the hand."; An adult-themed ventriloquism act; "Pull it, or I'll have your family sent to the moon!"; and "I put a tapeworm in your rice!"Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
I’m sure you’ll all be glad to hear that billionaire comedian Bill Gates is keeping it real the only way he knows how: experimental performance art.

While giving a talk on malaria at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference in Long Beach, California, this week, Gates kept his fellow wealthy tech dudes amused by releasing a swarm of malarial mosquitoes into the conference hall. For a few moments, the delegates were treated to the experience of what it must be like to be intentionally infected with a deadly tropical disease by one of the very few human beings richer than them.

Not one to carry a joke too far, however, Gates quickly donned his Ashton Kutcher trucker hat, and let out a relieving “psych!” None of the mosquitoes were infected! The stunt (or “punk”) was intended to remind the attendees of the conference that, as usual, they were safe from malaria.

“There are places in the world,” cackled Gates, “Where it’s possible to contract malaria even without the help of the richest man on the planet. Think about that! We spend lots more money on crazy rich-person medical procedures than on malaria prevention programs, and y’all should get your ethical priorities in line.”

Everyone at the conference ended up having a super good time, and nobody left with a high fever and severe vomiting. But next time, Gates promised, if malaria is still a problem, he would, “trap each and every one of you poindexters in a net full of dengue-infected mosquitoes.”

Man, the world is so exciting when you make an effort to change reality a little.

Jul
09
2008

So I'm surfing the web and I come across an item about DDT use in Africa. If it's true, then this is the kind of thing that really frosts my shorts. But, as the blogger notes, the item has only appeared in a couple of fringe outlets. Not that I consider the MSM the font of credibility. But I've already been taken to task for the Space Camp Barbie post, so it would be nice to have verification.

Anyway, according to this report, a Dutch textile firm is refusing to buy cotton from parts of Uganda which use the chemical DDT to combat malaria. Malaria kills up to 100,000 Ugandans every year. DDT effectively controls the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

But DDT has a downside -- it gets into the environment and poisons fish, birds and other wildlife. For this reason, it has been banned in the US and other Western countries for more than 30 years.

Countries that use DDT today don't spray food crops. They use small, safe amounts and generally confine its use to indoors, protecting people from malaria-ridden mosquitoes.

But this apparently is not good enough for the Dutch. According to the report, the company is refusing to buy cotton from areas that use DDT, claiming the crop is no longer "organic." As a result, farmers from those areas cannot sell their cotton at full price, and are losing money.

Basically, European eco-purists are giving African farmers a choice: avoid DDT and die of malaria, or use DDT and die of starvation. The Euro-elites, of course, face neither of these fates.

Like I said, this is based on just one report. It would be nice to get independent confirmation.

Mar
05
2008

Red blood cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum: This thin film Giemsa stained micrograph reveals ring-forms, and gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum.
Red blood cells infected with Plasmodium falciparum: This thin film Giemsa stained micrograph reveals ring-forms, and gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum.Courtesy cdc

  • Malaria is both preventable and curable.
  • A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds.
  • More than one million people die of malaria every year, mostly infants, young children and pregnant women and most of them in Africa.

A recent article in the NY Times discussed if it is possible to eliminate malaria. They need more money, better health systems and a vaccine. Some experts feel the big push to eradicate malaria is counterproductive or even dangerous. Dr. Arata Kochi, the W.H.O. malaria chief stated in the article that, “… enough money, current tools like nets, medicines and DDT could drive down malaria cases 90 percent. But eliminating the last 10 percent is a tremendous task and very expensive.” He doesn’t want people to have false hope.

A new vaccine
In spite of the debate, research is progressing to reach the goal of eliminating malaria. The Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) is home to one of the largest malaria research programs in the United States. SBRI's Malaria Program is focused on vaccine discovery for malaria during pregnancy, severe malaria in children and liver-stage malaria. SBRI scientists are working on a vaccine that uses genetic engineering to render malaria parasites harmless. According to an article in the Seattle Times SBRI is looking for volunteers to be bitten by malaria-infected mosquitoes to aid in the quest for new vaccines and drugs. Scientists will analyze blood from the human volunteers to learn more about the body's immune response to the disease.

What do we do?
Economists believe that malaria is responsible for a ‘growth penalty’ of up to 1.3% per year in some African countries. When compounded over the years, this penalty leads to substantial differences in GDP between countries with and without malaria and severely restrains the economic growth of the entire region. Malaria costs Africa $12 billion every year in lost productivity alone.

What do you think? Where should we be putting our resources?

  • Developing a vaccine (the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation alone has spent $258 million
  • More money to distribute long-lasting insecticidal nets (each net costs $5-7)
  • Mosquito control with indoor residual spraying like DDT (costs nearly $4 per person)
  • Getting effective drug treatments to the infected (effective therapy costs $2.40 for a round of treatment)