August 25th, 2019

To Your Health: Vaccine offers a lifeline of hope

By GILLIAN SLADE on April 29, 2019.

If you have ever lived in an area where malaria is prevalent, or even visited one, you will know how deadly it can be in a very short time.

For little children it can be a matter of hours if they receive no medical attention.

An amazing vaccine has now been developed and will be tested on 360,000 children in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana. The vaccine offers partial protection against malaria infection.

It is not 100 per cent effective but it is a lifeline of hope and will save thousands of lives. The World Health Organization says malaria claims the life of a child every two minutes. About 250,000 children die every year from malaria.

Prophylactic medication is terribly expense – the sort of thing only visitors to these countries can afford and if you have ever taken any you will know the side effects are unpleasant.

I remember in Zambia a father telling me his 18-month-old son was sick and would not eat or drink anything. Even getting the child to a doctor and having the all important blood test was not an easy process. Hours passed before there was a diagnosis and treatment.

There was another cases of an adult man who had been socializing with a group of people. He complained of not feeling well and having had malaria before. He said he knew he needed to get medicine that day. He walked off into a field of corn on his own and a short while later he was found dead. The strain of malaria he had was cerebral.

Malaria is typically found in the tropics and is spread by mosquitoes. When the mosquito bites a person a parasite called “Plasmodium” enters the person’s blood stream and symptoms begin from a week to 18 days later but can surface a year or more later.

Symptoms can include a high fever, feeling hot and yet shivering, terrible headaches, aching muscles and diarrhea.

In Zambia anti-malaria medication was available over the counter at a pharmacy because there was no time to wait to see a doctor in many cases. Those who had had malaria before usually knew without a doubt when it reoccurred.

Early treatment can lead to a full recovery but left untreated one can end up with severe anemia. The parasites enter the red blood cells. When they rupture it reduces the total number of blood cells. Cerebral malaria occurs when the small blood vessels in the brain become blocked.

This new vaccine has taken 30 years to be developed and it will be given to babies in three doses followed by a fourth dose when they turn two.

The vaccine is part of an ongoing program together with using insecticide treated bed nets and other means of controlling mosquitoes in the home.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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