It has recently been announced that the world is now facing a threat from the so-called ‘super malaria’ bug – a strain of malaria which is resistant to the main drug – artemisinin – used to treat malaria. Concerns are not only being raised because of the high resistance of the strain, but also as a result of the speed with which ‘super malaria’ has spread; it initially emerged in Cambodia, but has since spread to southern Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. If a new treatment is not quickly discovered, all forms of malaria could soon become resistant to artemisinin, which could have catastrophic effects, especially in Africa, where 92% of all malaria cases occur.
Currently, over 210 million are infected with malaria each year, but experts are concerned that with malaria potentially soon to become untreatable, the 770 000 people that die annually from malaria may well rise to millions of people. For the moment, all that can be done is to ensure that all areas where malaria has been eradicated remain this way, to prevent the spread of the ‘super malaria’ any further.
This is one example of the much greater problem of superbugs, commonly caused by the unnecessary, improper or overuse of antibiotics to treat illnesses – when a course of antibiotics is prescribed when it is not needed, or when the course of antibiotics is not finished, this allows for bacteria with resistant mutations to survive and reproduce. This then means resistant genes are passed on to future generations of bacteria, and consequently, the bacteria cause more problems, as they continue to infect people, but there is no longer an effective treatment.
At the moment, it seems there is not much that can be done to prevent the spread of ‘super malaria’, except contain it in as small an area as possible, and hope that an effective treatment is soon discovered.
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