Supermalaria

Get any two mission workers from the Tropics together, and it’s only a short time before they start talking about malaria.  But now this is something we need to take even more seriously as evidence emerges of a ‘supermalaria’ which has developed resistance to the main drugs used for treating the illness.

We have blogged about malaria before, but this development needs to be brought to everyone’s attention.  In a letter to the British medical journal The Lancet a team of researcher from the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok report what they call “a sinister development” and say that the new strain of malaria has

outcompeted the other resistant malaria parasites, and subsequently acquired resistance to piperaquine.

You can read the full text of their letter here.

Originating in Cambodia and currently spreading across south-east Asia, there is now a race against time to eliminate this problem before it spreads to major population centres.  The renewed risk is a timely reminder to mission workers, short-term teams and the people we work alongside to take malaria seriously.  While continuing to take the appropriate chemoprophylaxis recommended by medical advisors, but more attention needs to be given to avoiding being bitten in the first place – here are our top tips:

  • Make sure there is no standing water near your home, school or office for mosquitos to breed in. If you can’t eliminate standing water, pour a small amount of paraffin into it to break the surface tension and drown mosquito eggs.
  • Ensure there is no lawn within 100 metres of your home, school or office. Mosquitos feed on the grass sap so are attracted to green lawns.
  • Fit mosquito netting to windows and doors and check it regularly for damage.
  • Spray bedrooms with a pyrethoid-based spray before dusk.
  • Sleep with air conditioning or an electric fan as the cool and turbulence deters mosquitos.
  • Always sleep under an insecticide-impregnated mozzie net. Replace nets periodically and re-impregnate them every 6-12 months, depending on how frequently you wash them.
  • Cover up arms and legs with loose-fitting clothing, particularly if sitting outdoors in the evening.
  • Always use mozzie repellent spray on any remaining exposed skin – ones containing DEET are generally considered to be the most effective.
  • There is no evidence that insect electrocution devices or sonic repellants work, although many people continue to use them.
  • Eating raw garlic, chilli or Marmite are often believed to deter mosquitos although there is no evidence proving this!

And finally, take symptoms of malaria seriously, particularly if you’re in south-east Asia.  Many experienced mission workers shrug malaria off as if it is no worse than a case of flu, but this time it may be much harder to treat.