How does malaria kill
Malaria - a single mosquito bite can kill
A mosquito strikes
The most dangerous animal in Africa is the Anopheles mosquito, about six millimeters in size: it transmits malaria. Around half a million people die every year from this infectious disease. Malaria sufferers have high, recurring fevers, chills, and convulsions. The disease can quickly lead to death, especially in young children.
Everything starts in the mosquito
If the Anopheles mosquito bites an infected person, it ingests the malaria pathogen; the next time she passes it on to someone else. Researchers have marked the pathogen here in the picture with a glowing green protein. As the green glow reveals, the parasites multiply in the mosquito's intestines and finally collect in their salivary glands.
Harvesting pathogens for research
The biological name of the malarial agent is Plasmodium. To study it, researchers remove the salivary glands of infected Anopheles mosquitoes and isolate the parasite from them. The infectious form of the parasite accumulates in the mosquito's saliva - experts call this form sporozoites. On the right of the picture you can see the mosquito, in the middle the salivary glands that have been removed.
Mosquito - human - mosquito
In fact, humans are only the intermediate host of the malaria parasite, the final host is the mosquito. In us, the pathogen reproduces asexually: first in the liver, then in the red blood cells. Some of the parasites eventually form female and male cells. These are ingested by a mosquito and reproduce sexually in it. The circle closes.
Malaria pathogens run in circles
Because the malaria sporozoites are curved, they move in circles when researchers apply them to a piece of glass with liquid, as shown here. The parasites are colored yellow and their trajectory is blue. The pathogens are quick: they only need about 30 seconds for a circle. In their hosts they are distracted from the circular path by obstacles and then walk straight ahead.
Twelve days between the sting and the outbreak
In humans, the malaria pathogen initially lodges in the liver for a few days. During this time, the person concerned does not notice anything. Only when the parasite has transformed into small grape-shaped merozoites in the liver, which leave the organ and attack the blood cells, does the patient feel sick.
Malaria pathogens in the blood
The parasites take one to three days to multiply in the red blood cells. Then the blood cells break down and release many mature malaria pathogens and toxic substances from the parasite's metabolism. The result: fever attacks. The disease is easy to diagnose under the microscope after staining: the purple-colored pathogens are immediately noticeable in the blood smear.
Around the equator
Malaria is a typical tropical disease: it occurs where it is hot and humid. Some scientists feared that malaria would spread due to climate change. More recent studies come to a different conclusion: In fact, their area of distribution is steadily decreasing as more and more swamps are being drained.
Mosquito nets = lifesavers
The best cure for malaria is to avoid being bitten by a mosquito in the first place. Repellents - mosquito repellants for creaming - and of course mosquito nets, the fine meshes of which keep mosquitoes away, help. Sleeping under a mosquito net can save lives!
Researchers have developed a mosquito net that is supposed to provide extra protection: an insecticide is woven into the fibers of the nets, which is continuously released. The active ingredient kills all mosquitoes that settle on the mosquito net.
Poison weapon against malaria
If the risk of malaria gets out of hand, those affected often resort to hard means and spray insect venom en masse, as here in Mumbai, India. One such insecticide is the substance DDT - effective against mosquitoes, but as part of the "dirty dozen" bad for health and the environment: It is very long-lived and accumulates in the food chain.
Rapid malaria tests detect malaria pathogens in a drop of blood within minutes. Here the "Doctors Without Borders" examine a boy in Mali, Africa. His test is positive. The boy is given medication and two days later he is well again. However, such rapid tests do not always work reliably.
Race against time
Medicines destroy the parasite in the blood or prevent it from multiplying further. However, over time, the pathogens become resistant to the active ingredient - some drugs such as chloroquine no longer work in many areas. Counterfeit drugs with too little active ingredient also promote resistance. The only way out: to develop new medicines.
Well bedded against malaria
Even with a new vaccine, the motto continues: Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is the be-all and end-all.
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