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Travel Medicine Vaccine Cuts Malaria Infections By 50%

Posted by floriza in Travel Medicine

In a recent study that will be relevant to travel medicine professionals, a new vaccine for malaria has reduced infections in children by about 50%. The study was conducted in Agogo, Ghana, Africa at Agogo Presbyterian Hospital.

The vaccine, which is called RTS,S, was studied for two decades at a cost of over $400 million. While the study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the results will not be complete until 2014. The researchers are hopeful, however, that RTS,S will be the first effective vaccine for malaria, which kills in excess of 800,000 people annually worldwide.

Six thousand African infants were studied. The last years of the study will tell researchers how long the results of the vaccine last. They will also try the vaccine on younger babies. Thus far, the youngest children studied were five months old.

What is Malaria?

Malaria is an infectious disease resulting from a mosquito bite. The mosquito carries a parasite that is then passed into the bloodstream when someone is bitten by a malaria-carrying insect. Not all mosquitoes carry malaria; there are zones in the world where these types of mosquitoes, called anopheles mosquitoes, reside. They are only active at night.

While the United States had anopheles mosquitoes in the past, insecticides killed them off during the 1950s. In Asia and Africa, in particular, however, the combination of malaria zones and poor access to health care leaves many people vulnerable to infection. An average of 225 million infections occur annually. Children are particularly vulnerable to dying from malaria, and the majority of deaths happen on the African continent.

The vaccine works with only the deadliest species of parasite transferred by the anopheles mosquito. There are four additional parasites that also cause malaria.

What This Means for Travel Medicine

For most western travelers, malaria is not life-threatening as long as they obtain medical attention when symptoms begin. The symptoms are often the same as the common cold, however, causing people to wait before they see a doctor.

If the vaccine proves viable in adults, as well as children, it could become a preventative vaccination for people who plan to travel into malaria zones. It is too soon to tell, however, if this will come to pass, and if such a vaccine becomes available, it will be years before it is approved and used in travel medicine in New Jersey or elsewhere.

To date, the only available preventative medications in travel medicine for malaria cause side effects in many people. In some cases, the parasites have become resistant to the medications, making malaria prevention very complex.

 

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