New drug could help those infected with malaria

Every year, 300 million people are infected with malaria.

While the disease was eradicated in the U.S. 60 years ago, half the world's population remains at risk.

If you travel to an affected country, you could be at risk, too.

Now, a first-of-its kind drug could help put a stop to that.

Three years ago, Dawn Dubsky was studying overseas in Ghana when a mosquito bit the back of her leg. Back at home, she went to the ER. Ravaged by the malaria parasite, Dawn woke up a month later, a quadruple amputee.

"My parents had chosen to amputate my limbs to save my life,” she said.

20,000 travelers are infected with malaria each year. Dr. Mats Wahlgren of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden is working to change that.

"It kills around 1 million people each year, and how many died in 9/11? 3,000. It's more or less the same figure per day that malaria takes away,” Dr. Wahlgren said.

The parasite penetrates the red blood cells where it produces proteins that clog up the blood vessels, a potentially deadly situation. The new intravenous drug treatment would prevent that from happening by preventing infected blood cells from binding and releasing blood cells that are already bound.

While the breakthrough comes too late for dawn, she is taking steps to help others. Her non-profit America Against Malaria is her way of fighting back against a disease that nearly took her life.

Scientists have been able to treat severe malaria in rats and primates with the new malaria drug.

It remains to be seen whether the results will be replicated in people.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to fight malaria around the world.

Dawn Dubsky's nonprofit is raising money to help educate children in Ghana about the disease.

Research Summary:

BACKGROUND: Malaria is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a specific type of mosquito that feeds on humans. Common symptoms of malaria include high fever, shaking, chills, and flu-like illness. About 1,500 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year. The majority of these cases happen in travelers and immigrants returning from countries where malaria transmission occurs. This was the case for Dawn Dubsky who, while traveling in Africa, was bitten by a mosquito. Upon returning home to the United States, she went to the emergency room, ravaged by the malaria parasite. Dawn woke up a month later as a quadruple amputee.

PREVALENCE OF MALARIA: About 20,000 travelers are infected with malaria each year. It kills nearly 3,000 people each day and up to 1 million people every year. The parasite penetrates red blood cells where it produces proteins that clog blood vessels. Following the parasitic bite, a period of time passes before the first symptoms start to show. This period can last from seven to 30 days. These long delays between exposure and development of symptoms can result in misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis because of reduced clinical suspicion by the health care provider.

CURRENT TREATMENTS: Anti-malarial drugs can be prescribed to people traveling to areas where malaria is prevalent. It is important for travelers to see their health care providers well in advance of departure because treatment may begin as early as two weeks before entering the area and continue for a month after leaving the area. The types of anti-malarial medications prescribed will depend on the drug-resistance patterns in the areas to be visited.
(SOURCE: New York Times)

NEW TREATMENT IN THE WORKS: A new intravenous drug treatment is in the works to treat malaria. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden are currently studying the therapy. Scientists have been able to treat severe malaria in rats and primates with this new malaria drug, and they hope to replicate the results in humans.
(SOURCE: Karolinska Institute)

Karolinska Institute Press Office
Stockholm, Sweden

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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