Talking about Malaria

The FDA has since approved numerous antimalaria drugs. Many are not marketed here or are used here only for indications other than malaria.

Chloroquine remains the treatment of choice for patients with malaria caused by species still susceptible to the drug. Resistance to chloroquine is becoming more common, however, and alternative drugs are necessary.

In the United States, Barat says, oral quinine given together with either tetracycline or sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (Fansidar) is the best regimen for treatment of mild to moderate falciparum malaria acquired in areas where resistance to chloroquine has been identified. For patients with complicated malaria who are too ill to take oral medicine, intravenous quinidine is used in the United States. Mefloquine (Lariam) and halofantrine (Halfan) are also used to treat chloroquine-resistant falciparum malaria. Halofantrine is not currently marketed here. Intravenous quinine is used in other countries.

The incidence of malaria continues to increase, Gwadz says, “in part due to the spread of resistance to chloroquine and several of its substitutes, but also to reduced effectiveness and acceptability of mosquito-killing insecticides.”

In 1995, the World Health Organization established a system to monitor drug resistance in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

The parasite can be difficult to treat because it can change form to escape the human immune system, says Nell Goldman, Ph.D., associate director for research at FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Goldman says scientists at the center’s Laboratory of Parasitic Biology and Biochemistry conduct research “to learn how this process takes place and figure out how to interrupt it. If we make a break in the circle, maybe we can stop infection.”

Gwadz and colleagues are studying how to give mosquitoes a beneficial gene that prevents transmission of the parasite. To learn more about mosquito biology, they collaborate with scientists at West Africa’s National School of Medicine and Pharmacy, in Mali.

NIAID scientists also are conducting the first human trial of a vaccine to block transmission of malaria parasites from infected people.

Other Mosquito-Borne Disease. Aedes mosquitoes, mainly A. aegypti, an urban-dwelling insect, can transmit four types of dengue viruses, causing about 20 million cases of disease in more than 100 countries each year. A. aegypti mosquitoes tend to bite in the daytime, especially just after dawn and just before dark.

Dengue fever begins suddenly with high fever, severe frontal headache, joint and muscle pain, and sometimes vomiting and rash. Patients usually recover without complications. More serious, dengue hemorrhagic fever can lead to shock, bleeding, and death. There is no specific treatment. Symptoms can be treated with bed rest, intravenous fluids, and drugs to reduce fever.

In 1995, the worst dengue epidemic in 15 years hit Latin America and the Caribbean. Worldwide, the more than 600,000 cases of hemorrhagic fever caused 24,000 deaths. CDC in 1995 diagnosed dengue fever in 86 U.S. travelers, up from 46 during 1993-1994 and 17 in 1992.

A. aegypti mosquitoes also spread the yellow fever virus. Peru in 1995 had the biggest yellow fever epidemic in the Americas since 1950. West Africa also experienced an epidemic that year.

Mild yellow fever causes flu-like symptoms. Severe cases may involve bleeding and liver problems, sometimes leading to delirium, convulsions, coma, and death. Treatment is symptomatic. Prevention consists of vaccination and personal protection against mosquitoes.

Yellow fever vaccine must be approved by WHO and given at approved vaccination centers. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) helped in the vaccination campaign that controlled the Peru epidemic. PAHO is the regional WHO office for the Americas.

Elephantiasis and River Blindness. Worms related to the heartworms that can hurt dogs can give humans lymphatic filariasis, a disease affecting about 120 million people worldwide. Infected female Aedes, Anopheles, and various other mosquitoes deposit the worm larvae while biting.

The adult worm can damage the lymph system, resulting in elephantiasis–disfiguring swelling in the legs, arms, and other areas. The FDA has approved diethylcarbamazine (Hetrazan) for treatment. Surgery may be needed if certain areas, such as the scrotum, are affected.

River blindness (onchocerciasis) is caused by pre-larval and adult stages of Onchocerca volvulus, a filarial parasite transmitted by female black flies. Living near rapidly flowing rivers and streams, black flies bite by day. Most of the 17.6 million people who have onchocerciasis are in Africa, though the disease is common in certain areas of Central America as well. Short-term travelers appear to be at low risk for infection, which is usually found in Americans only when they stay in these areas a long time in roles such as missionaries, field scientists, and Peace Corps volunteers.

Symptoms include an extremely itchy rash, lumps under the skin, and eye inflammation that can lead to blindness.

Ivermectin kills the parasite at the stage when it causes symptoms. Merck, Sharp & Dohme provides this drug free to countries where river blindness is common. It is available here from the CDC under an agreement with the FDA. According to John Becher, one of two pharmacists who oversee the drug service, “we provide certain drugs and biologics as a public health service. Most are for rare diseases.” Ivermectin and other drugs for tropical diseases available through the service are not approved in the United States but are provided under investigational drug exemptions granted by the FDA.

NIAID’s Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases conducts research toward vaccines for elephantiasis and river blindness. While nearly everyone exposed becomes infected, a few individuals are resistant, says Thomas Nutman, M.D., who heads one immunology section. “These resistant individuals have antibodies in their blood that are specific to certain important parasite proteins. We identify the proteins, clone them, manufacture enough so we can study them, and then test them.” Testing is in test tubes instead of in animals, which don’t take the infection as humans do.

Flatworms, Snails, and Schistosomiasis. Flatworms cause schistosomiasis. First-stage larvae infect freshwater snails, then evolve into cercariae larvae, which exit the snails and swim along to find a human host. Penetrating the skin, male and female cercariae move in the bloodstream to the intestines or bladder and mate. Eggs excreted in human waste end up in the water supply, restarting the cycle. About 200 million people worldwide are infected. Severe disease leads to about 200,000 deaths each year.

Most symptoms are due not to the worms, but to eggs trapped in tissue. Short-term infection may be symptomless or cause such symptoms as fever, itchy rash, headache, joint and muscle pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Chronic infection can damage the liver, kidneys, and bladder, or intestines. The FDA has approved praziquantel (Biltricide) as treatment.

Places where schistosomiasis is most prevalent include Brazil, Puerto Rico, and St. Lucia (an island in the East West Indies); Egypt and most of sub-Saharan Africa; and Southern China, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia, according to CDC. At greatest risk are people who wade, swim, or bathe in fresh water in rural areas where sanitation is poor and snail hosts are present.

Travelers to such areas should not swim in fresh water; salt water, like the ocean and chlorinated pools, is considered low risk. Bathing water should be heated to 122 [degrees] F or treated with iodine or chlorine, as for drinking. Filtering water with paper coffee filters may remove the parasites. If these methods are impossible, CDC recommends that travelers let bathing water stand three days; cercariae rarely live longer than 48 hours.

WHO-led researchers are planning to test a vaccine in humans.

Trypanosoma Diseases. The parasites Trypanosoma brucei gambiense and T. brucei rhodesiense cause African sleeping sickness. About 20,000 cases worldwide are reported yearly. Infected tsetse flies, which bite during the day, transmit this extremely serious disease.

East Africa’s sleeping sickness, due to T. brucei rhodesiense infection, causes symptoms within days to weeks. West Africa’s chronic gambiense variety may not cause the “sleeping” part of the illness until months to years after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, lethargy, and confusion, which may progress to convulsions, coma, and death.

Suramin, available from the CDC, is for the early stages of both gambiense and rhodesiense sleeping sickness. Melarsoprol, an arsenic derivative, is also available from the CDC to treat final stages of both varieties. If the patient is known to have gambiense, however, the drug eflornithine (Ornidyl), approved by the FDA, is more effective and safe because melarsoprol can cause serious, even fatal, nervous system problems in some patients. Eflornithine is useful for both early and late stages of gambiense sleeping sickness; it is not effective for rhodesiense sickness.

Trypanosoma cruzi causes Chagas’ disease, which affects at least 16 million people in Central and South America. The parasite infects reduviid bugs. When the bugs defecate, they deposit the parasite, which can enter a human through a break in the skin or through a mucous membrane, such as that which lines the nose, mouth, or eyes. The best prevention is to avoid potential reduviid habitats–mud, adobe, and thatch buildings, especially those with cracks or crevices. If this isn’t feasible, spraying infested areas and using bed nets can help prevent infection.

In its short-term stage, Chagas’ disease may cause no symptoms or may cause fever, swollen lymph nodes, and inflammation of the heart or, rarely, the brain. Deaths occur, mainly in children, but most patients survive, their symptoms usually disappearing after four to six weeks. Many years later, about a fourth of patients develop serious, sometimes fatal, heart infection or damaged digestive organs, such as an enlarged esophagus or colon for the long term. Nifurtimox is available from CDC for the treatment of short-term Chagas’ disease. There is no accepted antiparasitic treatment for chronic illness.

About 70% of cases occur in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In 1991, the health ministers of those six countries began a program to eliminate Chagas’ disease by the end of this century. Since then, house infestation has declined 75% to 98% in some areas, PAHO reports.

The Leishmaniases. Sandra Levy is one of an estimated 12 million people worldwide with leishmaniasis. This group of diseases is spread through the bite of female sandflies infected with any of about 20 different species of Leishmania parasites.

Levy had cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes skin sores that may leave ugly scars. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis can cause disfiguring destruction of membranes in the nose, mouth, or upper throat (pharynx).

In visceral leishmaniasis, parasites invade internal organs, causing death if the symptoms are untreated. According to Walter Reed’s Magill, “you have chronic fever, depression of bone marrow and blood cells, weight loss, and a huge spleen so full of parasites it comes down into the pelvis.” Years may pass before symptoms appear.

Recently, 32 Persian Gulf War veterans were identified as leishmaniasis victims, 12 with viscerotropic leishmaniasis, a chronic syndrome associated with the infection, Magill says. They had fever and vague flu-like symptoms, but few signs of overt disease, he says. “Some had lymphnode enlargement that tended to come and go. A couple had slightly enlarged spleens.”

A free clinical evaluation program has been set up to identify and treat all veterans infected with leishmaniasis. (See box, page 30.)

The only current way to confirm a leishmaniasis diagnosis is by finding parasites in a clinical specimen. The FDA is evaluating a skin test developed by the Defense Department for mass screening of troops.

3 comments to Talking about Malaria

  • Jill

    We really cannot tell when there are mosquitoes ready to attack us or our children. But we must keep in mind that prevention is always better than a cure. Have them protected with repellent and don’t let mosquitoes build a home in your area.

  • Reino N

    I have two small kids and sometimes I get so paranoid knowing there are mosquitoes around ready to bite them and make them ill. All I can do is apply mosquito repellent on their skin and make sure our surroundings are always clean.

  • Tara McKee

    A friend from afar just told me that her kid is now suffering from H-fever. It really breaks my heart to hear that a very young child is having a hard time dealing with this ailment at this very moment. Malaria is another thing that is making me paranoid. If I could only keep my children inside a mosquito net all throughout the day, i would not mind doing it for their own protection.

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