All life evolves. Unfortunately, microbial life can evolve at a much faster rate than we can. We depend on antibiotic drugs like penicillin to treat infections and antiprotozoal drugs like metronidazole to deal with things like amoebic dysentery. The organisms that cause infections and illness can outpace the drugs that target them. In this case, there are some disturbing signs of drug-resistant malaria in Southeast Asia.
In this post, we will discuss some recent news stories that counter some of the more positive malaria-related news we had in 2012.
I first came across information on new cases of drug-resistant malaria in this article from NBC News. I later saw a similar piece from Think Progress here. Both pieces cover basically the same information, so I would pick one or the other and read it.
The reason why this is particularly troubling is that artemisinin has been an incredibly effective treatment agent in recent years. Here on the site, we recommend coartem, which has artemisinin as an active ingredient, as one of the best emergency stand-by treatments available. When it is effective, it can provide relief in less than 24 hours. What’s more, a full course of treatment can completely eliminate the malaria from your system.
In the articles above, cases are cited where the treatment does not provide relief for several days. This is a very troubling sign. It is in an indication that artemisinin is becoming less effective. Ultimately, it is an indication that this drug is no longer going to work. Once that happens, the number of drug-resistant cases will spread quickly. Given how globalized the world is, a drug-resistant disease can easily spread from one continent to another.
Right now there is not another drug that would be available to take the place of artemisinin. There are drugs that are 5-10 years away from being available, but even then it is not clear how effective they will be or whether they will even be approved. While there are some promising new approaches to fighting malaria before it even arrives in the human bloodstream, those efforts are also a ways off.
It’s not time to panic, but this is something to pay attention to. As someone who lives in West Africa, drug-resistant malaria is not a phrase I want to hear, particularly because the strain that is found here, falciparum is the most dangerous.
Photo credit: flicker user Javier Diaz