Malaria, one of the world's deadliest diseases

Malaria, one of the world's deadliest diseases

A tiny bug, a deadly disease

One of the parasites posing the biggest problems to humans is malaria. Every year there are over 200 million cases of malaria worldwide.

Around 655,000 people died from malaria in 2010, making it one of the world's most serious health problems. Over 90% of malaria cases occur in Africa. Poverty and lack of access to simple preventative measures lead to an increased occurrence of the disease.

What is malaria?

Malaria is a preventable and treatable blood disease caused by a parasite. It is carried from person to person by some types of mosquitoes. Have a look at this video showing what the malaria parasite does inside the human body:

When a mosquito bites an infected person, it sucks up blood containing the parasite. This infected blood can be passed on to the next person the mosquito bites, causing the disease to spread.

What can we do about malaria?

There are safe, effective and affordable tools to prevent and treat malaria, such as mosquito nets and drugs. However, many people living in malaria-affected regions can't afford these simple measures.

Charities such as the Gates Foundation are attempting to eradicate the disease and cases of malaria have been decreasing steadily over the past decade. Simply handing out mosquito nets sprayed with insect repellent can make a huge difference in the numbers of people who get malaria.

Mosquito in lab

Studying mosquitoes in the lab could help prevent spread of fatal diseases

Meanwhile, scientists across the world are working to develop new tools to prevent and cure the disease, such as new drugs for patients and new insect repellents. The big hope is that scientists will develop a vaccination for malaria, preventing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

One scientist, Dr Leslie Vosshall, aims to discover why some people smell better to mosquitoes than others. Malaria parasites manipulate the host's biology and send a signal to mosquitoes saying "Bite this person!" This helps the parasite to be transmitted from person to person.

Have a look at Leslie doing her bit for science, feeding hundreds of hungry mosquitoes with her own blood!


Curriculum information