On Thursday, U.S. researchers announced that they have completed preliminary successful malaria vaccinations on a small, test group. In 2010, malaria killed over 1 million people and infected 200 million. This outcome is one of the most promising in recent decades. The search for a vaccination has been arduous and frustrating, but finally a group of government, academic, and private researchers have had a breakthrough in administering effective doses of a vaccination. But in order for the vaccine eventually develop into an operational and effective mechanism for combating malaria, it will need to be tested on a large scale and modified to combat the multiple strains that exist.
Malaria is caused by a parasite named plasmodium which is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The parasite damages the human body after multiplying in the liver and infecting red blood cells. The World Health Organization states that 10 to 15 days after the initial mosquito contact, victims can suffer initial symptoms such as fever, headache, and vomiting. If left untreated, the parasites can stem blood flow to crucial organ systems in the body. The great concern is that in many parts of the world, the parasites have grown resistant to various malaria treatments.
Currently, preventative measures against malaria involve drug treatment, protective nets, and insect repellents, but the CDC says the system isn't fool proof.
The new study was conducted on three dozen volunteers who received several intravenous doses of the experimental vaccine. Volunteers were separated into groups, and each was given a different, prescribed dosage. A group of six individuals was given five separate doses and then infected with malaria. None of them contracted the disease. Another group of nine received only 4 doses, and three tested positive for malaria. The last group was not given any vaccination, and 11 out of 12 volunteers became infected.
For the first time in history, a vaccine test had proven 100% effective in preventing the volunteers from catching malaria. The promising results suggest that one day a vaccine is plausible. Yet doctors warned that this was only a preliminary test.
"This is not a vaccine that's ready for travelers to the developing world anytime soon," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University medical school. "From the point of view of science dealing with one of the big-three infectious causes of death around the world, it's a notable advance."
Traces of the disease have been recorded as far back as 2,700 B.C. in ancient Chinese medical writings. It is believed that malaria is partially responsible for the rapid decline of the Roman Empire, because the disease, known as "Roman fever," was pervasive in areas of the Empire where conditions were favorable towards the parasite.
Plasmodium itself was first discovered in 1880 by a French army surgeon, Charles Laveran, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In 1807, Ronald Ross uncovered how malaria was transmitted by proving that it could be spread from a human to a mosquito and vice-versa. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malaria has existed throughout the world, but it is especially prevalent in Pacific and African regions. During World War II campaigns in Africa and the South Pacific, over 500,000 U.S. soldiers were infected with malaria and over 60,000 died as a result. After the war, the U.S. made a concerted effort to remove malaria from the mainland. By 1951, government agencies had progressed and developed enough "house spray applications" to kill the bugs carrying the disease, effectively removing malaria from the states.
Africa has not been so fortunate. The World Health Organization reports that 90% of malaria related deaths in 2010 came from the continent. The country's high poverty rates and HIV/AIDS incidence levels drastically increase the death rate for those who contract the disease.
Though the creation of a viable vaccine could take up to 10 years, this breakthrough is the first step toward lifting "the global burden of malaria" and saving the lives of millions.