Thai-Myanmar Border Faces a Threat From A Resistant Malaria Strain

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A malaria strain increasingly resistant to the most effective drug used to treat the disease has spread along the Thai-Myanmar border and may reach India and Africa unless ways are found to contain it. Patients at malaria clinics take longer to get better when treated with combination therapies containing artemisinin – a drug derived from the sweet wormwood shrub and which is recognized as the best drug against malaria. The malaria strains that are resistant to artemisinin are definitely found in the western border of Thailand and eastern Myanmar. The implications are that they either spread or emerged newly there.

The spread of drug-resistant malaria has been because of the incorrect use of artemisinin and fake and substandard versions of the drug. Stronger action was needed from governments and international health agencies to stop all that and they failed to do so. Serious financial support is needed to contain this spread otherwise it will spread to India and Africa where more people can be affected. Further, it is difficult to establish that the malaria strain that is now spreading in Myanmar is linked to the one that emerged in Cambodia eight years ago. Thousands of people were infected by the Plasmodium falciparum, a species of malaria that can cause severe disease. The standard treatment containing artemisinin took significantly longer to clear the parasites from their bodies. If you have life-threatening malaria, the best treatment is artesunate (derivative of artemisinin) – the treatment of choice throughout the world. Compared with quinine, it reduces death by a-third.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that is passed from one human to another by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. After infection, the parasites (called sporozoites) travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they mature and release another form, the merozoites. The parasites enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. The first symptoms usually occur 10 days to 4 weeks after infection, though they can appear as early as 8 days or as long as a year after infection. The symptoms occur in cycles of 48 to 72 hours. Malaria can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby (congenitally) and by blood transfusions. Malaria can be carried by mosquitoes in temperate climates, but the parasite disappears over the winter. The parasites multiply inside the red blood cells, which then break open within 48 to 72 hours, infecting more red blood cells. The symptoms include anemia, chills, headache, fever, jaundice, coma, bloody stools, convulsion, nausea, sweating and vomiting.