Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nat'l Geo: Malaria

malaria patients at Kalene Mission Hospital in Zambia
Vunel Kasachi comforts her ten-month-old son, Nicholas, a malaria patient at Kalene Mission Hospital in Zambia. (photo: John Stanmeyer, National Geographic Magazine, July, 2007)

Check out this seriously "holy shit" article in National Geographic: Bedlam In The Blood: Malaria.

Some of the bits that made me say, "holy shit":
These are the one-celled malaria parasites, known as plasmodia. Fifty thousand of them could swim in a pool the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Typically, a couple of dozen slip into the bloodstream [of one bitten by a mosquito]. But it takes just one. A single plasmodium is enough to kill a person.

Holy shit, that's a pretty scary little bugger.

In some provinces [of Zambia], at any given moment, more than a third of all children under age five are sick with the disease.

Holy shit, that's a lot of sick kids. A third?

A nationwide health survey in 2005 concluded that for every thousand children under age five living in the North-Western Province [of Zambia], there were 1,353 cases of malaria. An annual rate of more than 100 percent seems impossible, a typo. It is not. What it means is that many children are infected with malaria more than once a year.

Holy shit, an infection rate greater than 100%?

few infectious agents can overwhelm the body as swiftly as [malaria parasites of type Plasmodium] falciparum. An African youth can be happily playing soccer in the morning and dead of falciparum malaria that night.

Holy shit, dead that night?

A million Union Army casualties in the U.S. Civil War are attributed to malaria [holy shit! a million?!], and in the Pacific theater of World War II casualties from the disease exceeded those from combat [holy shit!]. Some scientists believe that one out of every two people who have ever lived have died of malaria.
Holy, holy shit! Half the people who ever lived?!

One insidious thing about malaria is that many who don't die end up scarred for life. . . . "[Methyline Kumafumbo, a three-year-old girl who'd just come out of a malarial coma] may have permanent neurological damage." This legacy of malaria has sobering repercussions for people and nations. "It's possible," says [Robert] Gwadz [of the National Institutes of Health], "that due to malaria, almost every child in Africa is in some way neurologically scarred."

Holy shit, every child in Africa?

It's easy to list every vaccine that can prevent a parasitic disease in humans. There is none. Vaccines exist for bacteria and viruses, but these are comparatively simple organisms.

Holy shit, that doesn't sound good.

Holy shit, we better do something to help. Every five or ten bucks you can throw to any of those charities will buy and deliver insecticide-laden mosquito netting to Africa. Until someone does develop a vaccine, you can help protect a couple little kids from agony, neurological scarring, and possibly, death.

I mean, holy shit.


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