A super-smart parasite?
My science group project was on certain diseases and we got to interview a key researcher in Melbourne on Malaria. I went home and I just had to tell everyone about it, so I thought I’d tell everyone on here as well.
Plasmodium Flaciparum or the malaria parasite could possibly be one of the smartest parasites to infect the human body.
Injected into a person when they are bitten by a hungry, pregnant female mosquito, within a thirty second period, the parasite has swum through the blood stream and invaded the cells in the liver. At this point, the human immune system has no way to detect the parasite. Here it completes the next stage of its life-cycle. In a liver cell, a single malaria parasite can multiply and release thousands more parasites, which this time begin the invasion of the red blood cells.
Once in the red blood cells, the parasite excretes a type of sticky protein that coats the outside of the RBC, causing it to stick to the surrounding blood vessels. The parasite does this to avoid detection. Normal red blood cells travel around the body, eventually going through the body’s filter, the spleen. If an infected red blood cell was to travel through the spleen, it would be detected immediately and removed from the body.
Now whilst the parasite is trying to avoid detection in the red blood cells, it’s draining all of the nutrients and multiplying as well. In a red blood cell, one tiny little parasite becomes 32, each of these then invades another red blood cell and the cycle continues. An infected person can get very sick, very quickly as the sticky red blood cells clog up the blood vessels around the body. This can be extremely dangerous if it occurs in vital organs such as the brain or the heart.
According to WHO, about half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria infection. Cases mainly occur in sub-Sahara Africa, however Asia, Latin America as well as parts of the Middle East and Europe are also affected. As of 2010, 99 countries had been documented to have malaria cases and transmissions.
Although not a prevalent disease in Australia, malaria infects hundreds of thousands of people over the world each year. It causes severe morbidity and perpetuates the poverty cycle in third world countries. In 2010, an estimated 650,000 people died of malaria according to the World Health Organisation, although the error in this total is phenomenal, ranging from 537,000 to 907,000 deaths, due to most of the deaths occurring in the third world. Most of the deaths that occur due to the parasite are in children under 5 years of age, because the immune system in a person not being fully-developed in someone this young. Curiously, someone from a country such as Australia, where malaria is not present, is actually as much at risk of malaria as a 5 year old African child.