Fight Against Malaria Takes Odd New Turn

malaria
A new study has found a possible way to stop at least one species of mosquito from giving you malaria – by infecting them with a special strain of bacteria.

Researchers have found that infecting mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacterium makes it nearly impossible for malaria to survive in the insects, thus keeping them from spreading it to humans, the BBC reports. The technique was tested on Anopheles stephensi, a species that ranges from the Middle East to Asia. An example is shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image. This remarkable photograph shows the insect sucking blood from a human. It’s become so engorged it’s actually ejecting extra blood from its rear end. Sorry if you were eating when you saw this but hey, it’s in the name of science.

The bacteria passed from female mosquitoes to their offspring, opening up the possibility of infecting the entire species. Researchers followed 34 generations of infected mosquitoes and found the bacteria passed on through all of them. The results have been published in the journal Science. A study last year showed the same bacteria can be used to stop dengue fever.

The technique has not yet been tried on Anopheles gambiae, the main source of malaria in Africa.

This potential breakthrough in the fight against malaria is coming along at an important time, now that mosquitoes are developing a resistance to DEET.

Ten bizarre travel diseases that can ruin your next vacation

travel diseasesOn some level, catching a weird disease or picking up a little-known tropical parasite on your travels gives you bragging rights. “Look at me, I’m so hardcore!” Trust me, I’ve been there. But with Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB) making headlines worldwide, I’d like to remind fellow travelers that these diseases are no joke, and even those of us with healthy immune systems and access to industrialized medicine aren’t impervious.

The reality is, you never know what you might be susceptible to. In my case, my doctors and medical research indicate that I may be lacking an enzyme that made me vulnerable to an extremely rare but serious tropical disease caused by the bacteria Bartonella bacilliformis, which causes Oroya Fever (and its precursor, Verruga Peruana). I’m still recovering from a three-year battle with the disease that has resulted in permanent organ damage because of a failure to protect myself against sand flies in the Amazon Basin region of Ecuador. Regular applications of DEET could have prevented that, as well as the various misdiagnoses of tuberculosis, histoplasmosis, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but that’s another story.

A lot of tropical and uncommon travel-related ailments are difficult to diagnose, and sometimes even more problematic to cure (if they don’t kill you, first). Statistically, however, most travelers–even if they’re in extremely sketchy parts of the world–will stay healthy if they take the necessary precautions. Having a trustworthy travel doctor is also helpful if you spend a lot of time in developing nations.
Being prepared before you leave home is key. You should never take travel wellness lightly, but don’t let fear ruin your trip. I certainly don’t follow every bit of medical advice out there (I honestly don’t see the point of traveling if not to eat epic quantities of street food.). If you’re going to be completely paranoid and don’t own a Hazmat suit, perhaps it’s better to stay home. But don’t ignore CDC warnings for recommended (or required) vaccinations, and if you know you’re going to be in a malarial or otherwise-dangerous insect-or-disease-inhabited region, prepare accordingly.

Just remember to do your research before you go, and remember that while it most likely won’t happen to you, it’s not impossible.

After the video (graphic, but it illustrates just how devastating TB can be, as well as provides important information on Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis), a gallery of bizarre diseases you’ll want to avoid during your travels.


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Top five antibiotics to keep in your travel first aid kit

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But I do make my living off of eating while traveling which, if I have my way, usually entails sampling a lot of street food. That said, I do take precautions, but sometimes the inevitable happens anyway.

Back alley eateries aside, experienced adventurers know that it pays to visit a travel medicine clinic or their primary physician (an internist is best) before heading off the beaten path. I’ve learned through painful, sometimes embarrassing, experience to take a portable pharmacy with me when I travel, so I’m prepared when disaster strikes. Checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site is a must when planning a trip to developing nations, so you can get the appropriate immunizations; plan far ahead, as some of these require months to take effect.

Please note that I’m not endorsing self-diagnosis, the purchase of dubious or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, or the casual use of antibiotics. You can buy OTC meds in many countries, and I’ve had to do so more than once. But I wouldn’t recommend it unless it’s an emergency, you can’t get to a doctor, or the only medical assistance available is more high-risk than trying to diagnose and treat yourself.

Get legal prescriptions from your own doctor, one who hopefully understands tropical and/or travel medicine. Carry paper copies of your prescriptions with you, in case you find yourself subject to a random bag search (because life in a Thai prison isn’t fun, no matter what anyone tells you). For this reason, I don’t carry sterile syringes or hypodermic needles in my first-aid kit. If you’re diabetic or have a medical condition that requires injections, be sure to wear a medical alert bracelet and carry the appropriate paperwork on your person at all times.

I carry a small, nylon, wilderness first aid kit in my backpack. Besides the usual OTC stuff-hydrocortisone cream, antibiotic ointment, Airborne, ibuprofen, antihistamines, Imodium, and Pepto-Bismol tablets, my top five must-haves are listed below. Obviously, your list and doseages will vary based on your individual needs (I’m allergic to Penicillin), and you need to be extremely cautious about potential drug interactions, which is why you need a doctor to prescribe this stuff. All of these drugs are available in less-expensive generic forms.

1. Cipro: The big gun for serious bacterial infections
2. Doxycycline: a less expensive, less hardcore drug for bacterial infections, or for use in combination with other drugs for amoebic infections
3. Erythromycin: used for respiratory and streptococcal infections
4. Flagyl (metronidazole) for anaerobic bacterial, and certain parasitic infections
5. Gentomycin: an antibiotic eye ointment for stys, conjunctivitis, or other infections
6. Bonus round for women: Bactrim (for UTI’s, but also useful for GI infections), and Diflucan or Terazol (for yeast infections). If you’re traveling in the tropics or are withholding water consumption due to logistics (say, a 15-hour trip on a bus that has no toilet), you’ll be glad you have these on you. Trust me.

[Photo credit: Flickr user DawnVGilmorePhotography]

Genetically-engineered mosquitoes may help end malaria

Tropical travelers rejoice: researchers are getting closer to finding a possible vaccine for malaria, using genetically-engineered mosquitoes.

The Anopheles stephensi species is one of the main spreaders of human malaria. By altering its salivary glands, the mosquito acts as a “flying vaccinator,” carrying the Leishmania vaccine within its saliva. About 60 species of the Anopheles are vectors of the malaria parasite, which are transmitted to humans when the female feeds on blood.

Tests showed that when an altered mosquito bit its host — in this case laboratory mice — it became a transmitter of the vaccine. The bites succeeded in raising antibodies in the mice, indicating successful immunization with the vaccine.

It’s hoped that continuous exposure to bites will maintain high levels of protective immunity, through natural boosting, for a lifetime.

Researchers hope the vaccinator mosquitoes could be used to formulate a new strategy in the global fight against malaria. Every year about 250 million people are infected with malaria, and nearly one million die, according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, one in every five childhood deaths is caused by malaria.

There are, however, barriers to using this form of vaccination in the wild, including issues of controlling dosage, “medical safety issues” and the “issues of public acceptance to [the] release of transgenic mosquitoes.” It may not be as romantic as sundowners of gin and tonic (quinine is an old school anti-malarial), but it sure beats the potential side effects of Lariam.