New Method to Diagnose Malaria

Dec 10, 2012 | Adham Abdel Mottalib | Research & Policy

Thanks to a team of researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark, it is now possible to conduct a highly sensitive malaria diagnosis from a single drop of blood or saliva. This research was published on Nov. 2 in the journal, ACS Nano.

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite and spreads from one human to another by the bite of and infected mosquito vector called the Anopheles mosquitoes. The disease presents with high fevers, shaking chills, flu-like symptoms, and anemia. These symptoms usually appear between 7 and 30 days after the mosquito bites the affected individual.

According to the World Malaria Report WHO 2011 World Malaria Report, there were about 216 million cases of malaria and an estimated 655 000 deaths in 2010. Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2010, 99 countries and territories had ongoing malaria transmission.

The good news is that the frequency of actual epidemics has decreases. However, the number of malaria patients with relatively low infection counts has increased. These cases are more difficult to detect, thus increasing the need for more sensitive methods of diagnosis. There are several other ways to diagnose malaria including looking for the parasites in patients’ blood using a microscope, detecting antibodies against the Plasmodium parasites and detecting parasite nucleic acids using polymerase chain reaction. These diagnostic methods are time consuming and necessitate personnel with specialized training.

This new method, called Rolling Circule-Enhanced Enzyme Activity Detection, or REEAD, is more time- and cost- effective, and easy to perform. It is also able to diagnose infections caused by all five malaria-carrying plasmodium parasites, not just the most common two (Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax). Further, according to the Aarhus University press release, the REEAD-based method can detect whether the infecting plasmodium is drug resistant.

The best way to prevent infection with malaria is vector control. To prevent disease transmission, the WHO recommends the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor residual spraying (IRS) with insecticides. Unfortunately there are no licensed vaccines against malaria or any other human parasite up to date.

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