Malaria parasites have been with us since the beginning of time, and
fossils of mosquitoes up to thirty million years old show that malaria’s vector
has existed for just as long. The parasites causing malaria are highly specific,
with man as the only host and mosquitoes as the only vector. Every year,
300,000,000 people are affected by malaria, and while less than one percent of
these people die, there are still an estimated 1,500,000 deaths per year. While
Malaria was one of the first infectious diseases to be treated successfully with
a drug, scientist are still looking for a cure or at least a vaccination today
(Cann, 1996). Though many people are aware that malaria is a disease, they are
unaware that it is life threatening, kills over a million people each year, and
is a very elusive target for antimalarial drugs (Treatment of Malaria, 1996).
Being a very specific disease, malaria is caused by only four protozoal
parasites: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, and
Plasmodium malariae. Not only is the disease specific, but the parasites are
too, with only 60 of 380 species of female Anopheles mosquitoes as vectors.
With the exception of Plasmodia Malariae which may affect other primates, all
parasites of malaria have only one host, Homo sapiens. Because some mosquitoes
contain substances toxic to Plasmodium in their cells, not all species of
mosquitoes are vectors of Plasmodium. Although very specific, malaria still
causes disruption of over three hundred million people worldwide each year (Cann,
The life cycle of the parasite causing malaria exists between two
organisms, humans and the Anopheles mosquito. When a female mosquito bites a
human, she injects an anticoagulant saliva which keeps the human bleeding and
ensures an even flowing meal for her. When the vector injects her saliva into
the human, it also injects ten percent of her sporozoite load. Once in the
bloodstream, the Plasmodium travel to the liver and reproduce by asexual
reproduction. These liver cells then burst releasing the parasites back into
the bloodstream where they then enter red blood cells. Here, the Plasmodium
feed on hemoglobin and reproduce again by asexual reproduction. Afterwards, the
red blood cells burst and release the parasites. Some of the parasites released
from red blood cells may be able to replicate by sexual reproduction. When the
host has been bitten by a mosquito again, infected blood inters the mosquito.
Here, sexual forms of the parasite develop in the stomach of the Anopheles
mosquito completing the parasites life cycle (Herman, 1996).
People infected malaria have several symptoms including fever, chills,
headaches, weakness, and an enlarged spleen (Herman, 1996). The amount of time
for symptoms to appear differs depending on the form of the parasite. Those
infected with Plasmodium falciparum experience symptoms after about twenty-four
hours, those infected with Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale produce
symptoms after a forty-eight hour interval, and after seventy-two hours
Plasmodium malariae begin causing fever and chills (Cann, 1996).
Most malaria cases seem to cluster in the tropical climate areas
extending into the subtropics, and malaria is especially endemic in Africa. In
1990 eighty percent of all reported cases were in Africa, while the remainder of
most cases came from nine countries: India, Brazil, Afghanistan, Sri-Lanka,
Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. Globally, the disease
circulates in almost one hundred countries causing up to 1,500,000 deaths
annually (Cann, 1996).
Because there is no definite cure for malaria, scientists are trying
their hardest to contain the parasite to where it now exists. The range of a
vector from a suitable habitat is fortunately limited to a maximum of two miles
(Cann, 1996). If this were the only factor, scientist would have no problem
containing the disease. Humans migrate, however, and over time the disease has
slowly spread throughout the tropics. Major problems also exist when ignorant
tourists to Africa transfer the parasite to non malarious areas (Graham, 1996).
Biologists are also using control measures, such as spraying DDT to kill
mosquitoes, draining stagnant water, and using the widespread use of nets to
contain the mosquito itself (Herman, 1996). Because of the worsening situation,
the World Health Organization (WHO) declared malaria control to be a global
priority (Limited Imagination, 1996).
Although limiting the spread of malaria is not easy, finding a cure has
presented several problems in recent years. One main reason finding a cure for
malaria is so hard is that different strains in different parts of the world
require different drugs, all of which soon lose their effectiveness as the
parasite evolves resistance to them (Limited Imagination, 1996). Secondly, once
the parasite enters the human bloodstream, it changes form several times inside
the body, making it