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Indonesia, as one of the largest countries in the world, spreading over more than 5.000 kilometers from east to west and containing over 17.000 islands, is quite vulnerable for a number of disease. The health care system in general is not adequately equipped to deal with many basic situations, which should be a reason to get proper information about common diseases.


Malaria
A disease of millions

Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Each year, it causes disease in approximately 650 million people and kills between one and three million, most of them young children in Sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is commonly-associated with poverty, but is also a cause of poverty and a major hindrance to economic development.

Malaria is one of the most common infectious diseases and an enormous public-health problem. The disease is caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Plasmodium. The most serious forms of the disease are caused by Plasmodium falciparum< and Plasmodium vivax, but other related species (Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae, and sometimes Plasmodium knowlesi) can also infect humans. This group of human-pathogenic Plasmodium species is usually referred to as malaria parasites.

Malaria parasites are transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. The parasites multiply within red blood cells, causing symptoms that include symptoms of anemia (light headedness, shortness of breath, tachycardia etc.), as well as other general symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, flu-like illness, and in severe cases, coma and death. Malaria transmission can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites with mosquito nets and insect repellents, or by mosquito control measures such as spraying insecticides inside houses and draining standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs.

No vaccine is currently available for malaria; preventative drugs must be taken continuously to reduce the risk of infection. These prophylactic drug treatments are often too expensive for most people living in endemic areas. Most adults from endemic areas have a degree of long-term recurrent infection and also of partial resistance; the resistance reduces with time and such adults may become susceptible to severe malaria if they have spent a significant amount of time in non-endemic areas. They are strongly recommended to take full precautions if they return to an endemic area. Malaria infections are treated through the use of antimalarial drugs, such as quinine or artemisinin derivatives, although drug resistance is increasingly common.

History

Malaria has infected humans for over 50,000 years, and may have been a human pathogen for the entire history of our species. Indeed, close relatives of the human malaria parasites remain common in chimpanzees, our closest relatives. References to the unique periodic fevers of malaria are found throughout recorded history, beginning in 2700 BC in China. The term malaria originates from Medieval Italian: mala aria - "bad air"; and the disease was formerly called ague or marsh fever due to its association with swamps.

Scientific studies on malaria made their first significant advance in 1880, when a French army doctor working in Algeria named Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran observed parasites inside the red blood cells of people suffering from malaria. He therefore proposed that malaria was caused by this protozoan, the first time protozoa were identified as causing disease. For this and later discoveries, he was awarded the 1907 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The protozoan was called Plasmodium by the Italian scientists Ettore Marchiafava and Angelo Celli. A year later, Carlos Finlay, a Cuban doctor treating patients with yellow fever in Havana, first suggested that mosquitoes were transmitting disease to and from humans.

However, it was Britain's Sir Ronald Ross working in India who finally proved in 1898 that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. He did this by showing that certain mosquito species transmit malaria to birds and isolating malaria parasites from the salivary glands of mosquitoes that had fed on infected birds. For this work Ross received the 1902 Nobel Prize in Medicine. After resigning from the Indian Medical Service, Ross worked at the newly-established Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and directed malaria-control efforts in Egypt, Panama, Greece and Mauritius. The findings of Finlay and Ross were later confirmed by a medical board headed by Walter Reed in 1900, and its recommendations implemented by William C. Gorgas in the health measures undertaken during construction of the Panama Canal. This public-health work saved the lives of thousands of workers and helped develop the methods used in future public-health campaigns against this disease.

The first effective treatment for malaria was the bark of cinchona tree, which contains quinine. This tree grows on the slopes of the Andes, mainly in Peru. This natural product was used by the inhabitants of Peru to control malaria, and the Jesuits introduced this practice to Europe during the 1640s where it was rapidly accepted. However, it was not until 1820 that the active ingredient quinine was extracted from the bark, isolated and named by the French chemists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Jean Bienaime Caventou.

In the early twentieth century, before antibiotics, patients with syphilis were intentionally infected with malaria to create a fever, following the work of Julius Wagner-Jauregg. By accurately controlling the fever with quinine, the effects of both syphilis and malaria could be minimized. Although some patients died from malaria, this was preferable than the almost-certain death from syphilis.

Although the blood stage and mosquito stages of the malaria life cycle were established in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not until the 1980s that the latent liver form of the parasite was observed. The discovery of this latent form of the parasite finally explained why people could appear to be cured of malaria but still relapse years after the parasite had disappeared from their bloodstreams.

Distribution and impact

Malaria causes about 400900 million cases of fever and approximately one to three million deaths annually - this represents at least one death every 30 seconds. The vast majority of cases occur in children under the age of 5 years; pregnant women are also especially vulnerable. Despite efforts to reduce transmission and increase treatment, there has been little change in which areas are at risk of this disease since 1992. Indeed, if the prevalence of malaria stays on its present upwards course, the death rate could double in the next twenty years. Precise statistics are unknown because many cases occur in rural areas where people do not have access to hospitals or the means to afford health care. Consequently, the majority of cases are undocumented.


Malaria risk in Indonesia: Rural areas only, except high risk in all areas of Papua. Little risk in cities in Java and Sumatra, the main resort areas of Java and Bali.

Although co-infection with HIV and malaria does cause increased mortality, this is less of a problem than with HIV/tuberculosis co-infection, due to the two diseases usually attacking different age-ranges, with malaria being most common in the young and active tuberculosis most common in the old. Although HIV/malaria co-infection produces less severe symptoms than the interaction between HIV and TB, HIV and malaria do contribute to each other's spread. This effect comes from malaria increasing viral load and HIV infection increasing a person's susceptibility to malaria infection.


Worldwide distribution of malaria. © CDC, public domain.

Malaria is presently endemic in a broad band around the equator, in areas of the Americas, many parts of Asia, and much of Africa; however, it is in sub-Saharan Africa where 85 90% of malaria fatalities occur. The geographic distribution of malaria within large regions is complex, and malarial and malaria-free areas are often found close to each other. In drier areas, outbreaks of malaria can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by mapping rainfall. Malaria is more common in rural areas than in cities; this is in contrast to dengue fever where urban areas present the greater risk. For example, the cities of the Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are essentially malaria-free, but the disease is present in many rural regions. By contrast, in Africa malaria is present in both rural and urban areas, though the risk is lower in the larger cities. The global endemic levels of malaria have not been mapped since the 1960s, however, the Wellcome Trust, UK, has funded the Malaria Atlas Project to rectify this, providing a more contemporary and robust means with which to assess current and future malaria disease burden.

Symptoms

Symptoms of malaria include fever, shivering, arthralgia (joint pain), vomiting, anemia caused by hemolysis, hemoglobinuria, and convulsions. There may be the feeling of tingling in the skin, particularly with malaria caused by P. falciparum. The classical symptom of malaria is cyclical occurrence of sudden coldness followed by rigor and then fever and sweating lasting four to six hours, occurring every two days in P. vivax and P. ovale infections, while every three for P. malariae. P. falciparum can have recurrent fever every 36-48 hours or a less pronounced and almost continuous fever. For reasons that are poorly understood, but which may be related to high intracranial pressure, children with malaria frequently exhibit abnormal posturing, a sign indicating severe brain damage. Malaria has been found to cause cognitive impairments, especially in children. It causes widespread anemia during a period of rapid brain development and also direct brain damage. This neurologic damage results from cerebral malaria to which children are more vulnerable.

Severe malaria is almost exclusively caused by P. falciparum infection and usually arises 6-14 days after infection. Consequences of severe malaria include coma and death if untreated-young children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen), severe headache, cerebral ischemia, hepatomegaly (enlarged liver), hypoglycemia, and hemoglobinuria with renal failure may occur. Renal failure may cause blackwater fever, where hemoglobin from lysed red blood cells leaks into the urine. Severe malaria can progress extremely rapidly and cause death within hours or days. In the most severe cases of the disease fatality rates can exceed 20%, even with intensive care and treatment. In endemic areas, treatment is often less satisfactory and the overall fatality rate for all cases of malaria can be as high as one in ten. Over the longer term, developmental impairments have been documented in children who have suffered episodes of severe malaria.

Chronic malaria is seen in both P. vivax and P. ovale, but not in P. falciparum. Here, the disease can relapse months or years after exposure, due to the presence of latent parasites in the liver. Describing a case of malaria as cured by observing the disappearance of parasites from the bloodstream can therefore be deceptive. The longest incubation period reported for a P. vivax infection is 30 years. Approximately one in five of P. vivax malaria cases in temperate areas involve overwintering by hypnozoites (i.e., relapses begin the year after the mosquito bite).

Prevention and disease control

Methods used to prevent the spread of disease, or to protect individuals in areas where malaria is endemic, include prophylactic drugs, mosquito eradication, and the prevention of mosquito bites. There is currently no vaccine that will prevent malaria, but this is an active field of research.

Many researchers argue that prevention of malaria may be more cost-effective than treatment of the disease in the long run, but the capital costs required are out of reach of many of the world's poorest people. Economic adviser Jeffrey Sachs estimates that malaria can be controlled for US$3 billion in aid per year. It has been argued that, in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals, money should be redirected from HIV/AIDS treatment to malaria prevention, which for the same amount of money would provide greater benefit to African economies.

Efforts to eradicate malaria by eliminating mosquitoes have been successful in some areas. Malaria was once common in the United States and southern Europe, but the draining of wetland breeding grounds and better sanitation, in conjunction with the monitoring and treatment of infected humans, eliminated it from affluent regions. In 2002, there were 1,059 cases of malaria reported in the US, including eight deaths. In five of those cases, the disease was contracted in the United States. Malaria was eliminated from the northern parts of the USA in the early twentieth century, and the use of the pesticide DDT eliminated it from the South by 1951. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was a major public health effort to eradicate malaria worldwide by selectively targeting mosquitoes in areas where malaria was rampant. However, these efforts have so far failed to eradicate malaria in many parts of the developing world - the problem is most prevalent in Africa.

Brazil, Eritrea, India, and Vietnam have, unlike many other developing nations, successfully reduced the malaria burden. Common success factors included conducive country conditions, a targeted technical approach using a package of effective tools, data-driven decision-making, active leadership at all levels of government, involvement of communities, decentralized implementation and control of finances, skilled technical and managerial capacity at national and sub-national levels, hands-on technical and programmatic support from partner agencies, and sufficient and flexible financing.

The Malaria Control Project is currently using downtime computing power donated by individual volunteers around the world (see Volunteer computing and BOINC) to simulate models of the health effects and transmission dynamics in order to find the best method or combination of methods for malaria control. This modeling is extremely computer intensive due to the simulations of large human populations with a vast range of parameters related to biological and social factors that influence the spread of the disease. It is expected to take a few months using volunteered computing power compared to the 40 years it would have taken with the current resources available to the scientists who developed the program.


All text in this article is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Last revised on October 11, 2009
    
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